Unmarried older people: Are they socially better off today?

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Objectives. Previous studies have shown that unmarried older adults are generally at disadvantage in personal networks and social well-being compared to the married. It can be questioned whether their situation has improved in contemporary society, as amongst others the stigma of divorce and being never-married has declined. We hypothesize differential developments in networks and well-being according to marital status (married, widowed, divorced and never-married) across birth cohorts.
Method. Data are from the 1993 and 2013 observations of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam on Dutch people aged 55-69 (N = 2,894) and 70-84 years (N = 2,317). We employ general linear modelling of network size and diversity, received emotional and instrumental support, emotional and social loneliness, and depressive symptoms.
Results. The widowed are better off socially in 2013 than in 1993. Similar to the divorced they have a larger network, and similar to the never-married they receive more emotional support and are less emotional lonely. We find some gender-differences in these developments.
Discussion. Societal change has not radically altered networks and well-being of unmarried older people. The widowed seem to benefit most, possibly because they are better able to retain relationships after widowhood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1463-1473
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journals of Gerontology. Series B : Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number8
Early online date11 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


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