Growing Old, With Family and Friends

Given the past century’s dramatic increases in life expectancy, at least for those living in developed nations, much research is now centering on how to increase the quality of those additional years of life. Adding to this research is a new paper assessing how marriage, parenthood, and social network impacts the subjective well-being and mental health of older adults. To open their study, the researchers—who hail from universities in Germany and the Netherlands—point out that “Evidence suggests that being married or living with a partner can have a positive effect on life satisfaction and is associated with higher well-being, better mental health and fewer depressive symptoms in old age.” They contrast this finding with another demonstrating that “Parenthood, on the other hand, does not appear to be associated with enhanced mental health.” Many studies have demonstrated that, particularly for women, subjective well-being and depressive symptoms tend to be worse for parents, but particularly for parents who have resident children. The researchers also point out “evidence that the relationship between children and well-being becomes more positive for older adults.” Next, the researchers point to studies that clearly limn the benefits of social networks to older adults. In their study, they aim to bring together the relationship between both family and social support, particularly seeking to define what that social support looks like in terms of personal closeness, proximity, times contacted per week, etc. The researchers hypothesize: “i) A positive association with being married, ii) a positive association with the number of children and grandchildren not living at home, and iii) a positive association with having a strong social network implied by family background.” For their study, the authors turn to a cross-national database, and target adults 50 years old and older. Their data consists of information gathered from over 55,000 adults
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