Age and Gender Differences in Social Network Composition and Social Support Among Older Rural South Africans: Findings from the HAALSI Study
40 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2017 Last revised: 9 Sep 2017
Date Written: September 8, 2017
Objectives: Drawing on data from the “Health and Aging in Africa: A Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH community in South Africa” (HAALSI) baseline survey, we present data on older adults’ social networks and receipt of social support in rural South Africa. We examine how age and gender differences in social network characteristics matched with patterns predicted by theories of choice- and constraint-based network contraction in older adults.
Method: We used regression analysis on data for 5059 South African adults aged over 40.
Results: Older respondents reported fewer important social contacts and less frequent communication than their middle-aged peers, largely due to fewer non-kin connections. Network size difference between older and younger women was greater than that between older and younger men. This gender difference was explicable by much higher levels of widowhood amongst older women compared to younger women and older men.
Discussion: We found evidence for marriage-related structural constraint on older women’s social networks in rural South Africa, but not for choice-based network contraction. These findings suggest that many older women in rural Africa, a growing population, may have an unmet need for social support.
Keywords: constraint theory; functional selectivity theory; socioemotional selectivity theory; convoy model; kin; marital status
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