Understanding the value of social networks in life satisfaction of elderly people: a comparative study of 16 European countries using SHARE data

Florian Tomini, Sonila M Tomini, Wim Groot
BMC Geriatrics 2016 December 1, 16 (1): 203

BACKGROUND: Networks of family and friends are a source of support and are generally associated with higher life satisfaction values among older adults. On the other hand, older adults who are satisfied with their life may be more able to develop and maintain a wider social network. For this reason, the causal link between size and composition of the social networks and satisfaction with life is yet to be explored. This paper investigates the effect of the 'size', (number of family and friends, and network) and the 'composition' (the proportion of friends over total number of persons) of the social network on life satisfaction among older adults (50+). Moreover, we also investigate the patterns of this relation between different European countries.

METHOD: Data from the 4th wave of Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe and an instrumental variable approach are used to estimate the extent of the relation between life satisfaction and size and composition of social networks.

RESULTS: Respondents in Western and Northern European (WNE) countries report larger networks than respondents in Eastern and Southern European (ESE) countries. However, the positive relationship between network size and life satisfaction is consistent across countries. On the other hand, the share of friends in the network appears to be generally negatively related to satisfaction with life, though results are not statistically significant for all countries.

CONCLUSIONS: Apparently, a larger personal network is important for older adults (50+) to be more satisfied with life. Our results suggest that this relation is particularly positive if the network is comprised of family members.

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