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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

Guy Harling

University College London

Katherine Ann Morris

Harvard University - Department of Sociology

Lenore Manderson

University of the Witwatersrand - School of Public Health

Jessica Mayson Perkins

Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies

Lisa Berkman

Harvard University - T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Date Written: September 8, 2017

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Harling, Guy and Morris, Katherine Ann and Manderson, Lenore and Perkins, Jessica Mayson and Berkman, Lisa, Age and Gender Differences in Social Network Composition and Social Support Among Older Rural South Africans: Findings from the HAALSI Study (September 8, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2977867 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2977867

Guy Harling (Contact Author)

University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.guyharling.com

Katherine Morris

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
William James Hall, Sixth Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Lenore Manderson

University of the Witwatersrand - School of Public Health ( email )

Johannesburg
South Africa

Jessica Perkins

Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies ( email )

9 Bow Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Lisa Berkman

Harvard University - T.H. Chan School of Public Health ( email )

677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

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