Social relationships in older adulthood have strong connections to health and wellbeing. Connections with social network members and with spouses and long-term partners in particular, have an especially important impact on health.
Researchers Jaclyn S. Wong and Linda J. Waite highlight recent research from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally representative, longitudinal study of aging in America, to describe the different ways health is produced in social contexts.
They discuss how social network characteristics and marital relationships influence health outcomes and sexuality, and then move on to recent findings about the ways health shapes an individual’s social world. They show, that features of a social network, apart from simply its size, have strong effects on health behaviors, and that changes in network composition are associated with changes in health. Marriage is uniquely protective against damaging biological processes, and the quality of a marriage influences health and well-being in nuanced ways.
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