A Social Relations and Networks Perspective of Depressive Symptoms in Older African Americans Relative to Two Other Ethno-racial Groups

Background and Objectives

Family ties and role relationships through their effects on exchanges of resources and social support are critical health contexts for older African Americans. We studied the influence of affect-based (positive or negative) social relations and respondent-role network centrality on depressive symptoms in older African Americans compared to two ethno-racial groups, Black Caribbeans and Non-Hispanic Whites.

Research Design and Methods

We used data from the multigenerational 2004 National Survey of American Life Family Connections across Generations and Nations Study (NSAL 3-Gen). For respondents aged 50 years or older, we used tie affect (positive or negative) to code family role relations and two-mode (where an entity or thing is connected to a different type of entity, here individuals are connected to role relations) family networks. We used survey linear regressions to probe the independent association of relations and networks on depressive symptoms among older African Americans as compared to Black Caribbeans and Non-Hispanic Whites.


Negative and positive relations are significantly associated with depressive symptoms, but there were some ethno-racial differences. For example, the negative Father relation is significantly associated with greater depressive symptoms among African Americans, but not in Black Caribbeans and Non-Hispanic Whites. Negative two-mode networks (connections from individuals to role relations) are significantly associated with depressive symptoms among African Americans and in the two comparison ethno-racial groups, while there is no significant association between positive networks and depressive symptoms.

Discussion and Implications

We found that negative relations had larger effects on depressive symptoms than positive ones, and conversely that negative networks had larger effects than positive networks. Simultaneously modeling social relations and networks could potentially enhance our understanding of the links between social structure, and depressive symptoms among older adults in African American and other ethno-racial minorities.