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Social Relations, Aging and Health: Competing Theories and Emerging Complexities


Collaborators: Toni C. Antonucci (PI), Kristine J. Ajrouch, Kira S. Birditt, Noah J. Webster

Funding: National Institute on Aging

Grant: R01 (AG045423)

Project Period: 08/01/2013 – 07/31/2018

Description: This research project addresses two questions. How do social relationships and social support change with age? And when are social relationships most beneficial or harmful to health? To do this we examine three waves of the Social Relations, Age and Health study spanning more than 20 years, analyzing detailed changes in social relations using both monthly assessments and multiple informants.

Specifically, this study (1) tests competing theories about age, social relations and health; (2) specifies the direction and shape of change in social relations over time; (3) tests the relative strength of the three hypothesized mechanisms of social contagion: induction, homophily, and shared environmental factors; and (4) examines competing exchange theories, e.g. altruism, developmental stake, support bank, well as their association with health disparities.

Study findings will impact scholarship by identifying how social relations change with age; the links between social relations and health; and how specific characteristics of social relations – cross-sectionally and longitudinally – influence the stress-health link and social disparities. We also hope to impact public policy with attention to social relations intervention programs that reduce long-term risk and increase protective factors.