Social network typology research on older adults has derived different social network groupings based on the four types including diverse, community, friend, and family, restricted type. Individuals in the diverse type have the most expansive social ties while people in the restricted type have the most limited ties. Family type and friend type refer to the networks in which people's ties are concentrated on family members and friends respectively. Generally, the findings suggest that diverse and friend network types enjoyed greater well-being, while the restricted network revealed poorer outcomes.
This study aims to examine if and to what extent change in the network type of community-dwelling older adults affects their well-being. Following the same individuals over a four year period from 2004 to 2008, we derived distinctive network types for each year. Then we examined the association between the changes of the network types and the older adults' well-being. Based on the general findings of previous network typology research, we hypothesized becoming a restricted type will be associated with a lower level of the well-being and becoming a non-restricted type will be related with better outcomes in well-being.
We used the 2004 and 2008 data of the Health and Retirement Study, focusing on respondents aged 65 and older. The analytic sample was N= 1203. Social network types were derived by Ward hierarchical and K-means cluster analysis based on nine social network characteristic variables including marriage status, frequency of attendance at religious services, frequency of social activities, number of close children, family and relatives, and frequencies of contact with friends, family and children. Regression analysis was conducted to examine the changes in association between the network type and the three aspects of well-being, subjective health status, depressive symptom, and life satisfaction.
In both years, we derived four largely consistent network types with previous network typology research. In 2004, they were Marriage–community type (n=213, 18%), Non-Marriage-Community type (n=238, 20%), Diverse type (n=186, 16%), and Restricted type (n=566, 47%). In 2008, there were Marriage type (n=175, 16%), Family type (n=346, 32%), Diverse type (n=240, 23%), and Restricted type (n=303, 28%). As hypothesized, regression analyses controlling for age, gender, race, education, household and family income showed that older adults whose network types changed from the restricted to non restricted type and those whose network remained as non restricted type showed higher subjective health status (beta=.306, p<.001 and beta=.269, p<0.01), higher life satisfaction (beta=.308, p<.001), and lower depressive symptom (beta= -.397, p<.001 and beta= -.37, p<.001) compared to a reference group (restricted type in both 2004 and 2008).
Interestingly, becoming a restricted network type was not significantly associated with well-being. It might suggest that most of older adults themselves actively attempt to expand their social ties while becoming less socially engaged does not necessarily mean lower level of well being.