Network size and support in old age: differentials by socio-economic status in childhood and adulthood

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    This paper examines the impact of childhood and adulthood socio-economic status (SES) on personal network characteristics in later life. Data are derived from 2,285 married older adults (born between 1903 and 1937) who participated in face-to-face interviews for the Dutch survey on 'Living arrangements and social networks of older adults' conducted in 1992. Childhood and adulthood SES were indicated by the father's and own level of education and occupation. Multivariate analyses showed that SES in adulthood has more impact on network features in old age than father's SES. People with low lifetime SES or with downward SES mobility had small networks, low instrumental and emotional support from non-kin, but high instrumental support from kin, when compared with the upwardly mobile or those with high lifetime SES. The level of education was a better indicator of network differences than occupational prestige. It is concluded that obtaining a high SES during life pays off in terms of having more supportive non-kin relationships in old age. The small networks and less supportive non-kin relationships of low-status older adults make them more vulnerable to situations in which kin are unavailable or less willing to provide support. This study underscores the distinction between types of support and types or relationships in the SES-network association. Further research on the social pathways of socio-economic inequality in health and wellbeing should take these distinctions into account.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)625-645
    Number of pages21
    JournalAgeing and Society
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2003


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