Profiles of social relations among older adults: a cross-cultural approach

ABSTRACT This study extends previous research on the profiles of social relations in three ways: (1) by including both functional and qualitative characteristics of social relations; (2) by examining the association of these profiles with mental and physical health and mortality; and (3) by exploring these profiles and associations in two cultures. Using samples of approximately 500 adults aged 60 or more years from the Social Relations and Mental Health over the Life Course studies in both the United States and Japan, separate cluster analyses were conducted for each country. The common or shared network types were labelled 'diverse', 'restricted', 'friend-focused' and 'family-focused', but in the US we found two types of 'friend-focused' networks (supported and unsupported) and two types of 'restricted' networks (structurally- and functionally-restricted). In addition, we found a unique network type in Japan: 'married and distal'. Multivariate analyses of variance and Cox regressions revealed that whereas individuals in the functionally restricted network type had the worse physical and mental health in the US, Americans in the structurally-restricted network type had the lowest survival rates at a 12-year follow-up. Interestingly, there were no wellbeing differences by network type in Japan. The findings have been interpreted in the light of social relations theories, with special emphasis on the importance of taking a multidimensional perspective and exploring cultural variation. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]