The Network Bases of Social Support: Why Socially Embedded Spouses Are More Supportive

Benjamin Cornwell, Cornell University

This paper examines whether the flow of social support between older married adults is associated with their joint connectedness to third parties, which could enhance their capacities to coordinate and provide support to each other. I examine data from 1,490 older married adults between the ages of 57-85 from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP). Analyses reveal that, when one’s spouse has more frequent contact with one’s other network members, one is more likely to: 1) view one’s spouse as a reliable source of support; 2) open up to one’s spouse about personal worries; and 3) discuss health problems and medical treatment decisions with him or her. These associations do not vary by gender. I consider important limitations of the data and analysis, and discuss the need for further research on the link between older adults’ social networks and social support processes.

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Presented in Session 152: Family Ties in Later Life: Contact, Care, and Relationships II