Social Relations, Productive Activities, and Coping with Stress in Late Life

We propose that social relations serve an important function by linking the individual to economic networks, thereby providing a context for productive activities and a conduit for social, physical, and psychological well-being. Among the multiple effects of this linkage is the provision of resources that can enable the individual to cope with stressful life situations. This is a particularly useful tie for older adults who often are retired from the paid labor force but have longstanding and extensive social relations. In the following section the literatures on social relations, stress, and well-being over the life span are briefly reviewed. In subsequent sections we present a theoretical framework that places the conceptualization and assessment of individual productivity within the context of economic and primary social relationship networks, and we speculate on the nature and implications of productive activities within these networks for individual stress and well-being over the life course. We conclude the chapter with a brief discussion of the advantages of a network model of individual productivity and the implications of this model for studies of stress and well-being in older adults.