Social relations and aging in Blacks and Whites: interpreting differences

This paper explores the importance of context for understanding race differences in social relations over the life course. Data are available from the Survey on Social Relations, a representative regional sample of 1382 men and women aged 20-93. The study oversamples people aged 60 and above, and 30% of the respondents are African American. Analyses indicate that blacks of all ages report: (1) a higher proportion of females within their network; (2) receiving more positive support from their mother, and (3) more negative affect from the person mentioned as closest. Any interpretation of these racial differences should consider the following contextual issues. The fact that black men and women report receiving more support from their mothers is likely to reflect the lower probability of being married among adult blacks and the consequent higher probability that mother is named as their closest relationship. Additiona1ly, experiencing more negative affect from the closest person may also reflect this difference since high levels of ambivalence in mother-child relationships are more likely than between spouses. This latter finding should also be considered within the context of the reported high amounts of positive support from mothers. The results underscore the complexity of race differences and suggest the importance of interpreting data within a broader cultural context. [English Abstract]