The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Importance of Relationships With Neighbors for Psychological Well-Being Among Midlife and Older Adults: Evidence From a Longitudinal U.S. National Study

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Emily Greenfield, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, NJ
Laurent Reyes, BSW, BA, Student, Rutgers University, North Bergen, NJ
Background and Purpose: There is growing enthusiasm for community-based initiatives that aim to strengthen relationships among neighbors to promote well-being in later life, such as Villages and Naturally Occurring Retirement Community Supportive Service Programs (e.g., Greenfield, Scharlach, Lehning, & Davitt, 2012). Few studies systematically have examined the extent to which high quality relationships with neighbors is associated with better psychological well-being, calling into question the strength of the evidence base for such practice efforts. This study was guided by current theorizing on “aging in community,” which  emphasizes interdependence among neighbors and the integration of older adults in the community (Thomas & Blanchard, 2009), to advance research on neighbor relationships and well-being, which mostly has used cross-sectional data from small, regional samples (e.g., Farrell, Aubry, & Coulombe, 2004). Specifically, this study examined (a) whether higher quality relationships with neighbors are associated with higher level of psychological well-being among midlife and older adults over time, (b) whether these associations are independent of adults’ relationship quality with family and friends, and (c) whether the associations vary by age.

Methods: We used data from 1,188 non-institutionalized, English-speaking adults, ages 40 to 74, who participated in both waves of the 1995-2005 National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS). Controlling for sociodemographic factors, such as participants’ education and gender, lagged dependent regression models were estimated to examine associations between two measures of quality of relationships with neighbors (contact and perceived support) and well-being (environmental mastery, purpose in life, positive affect, and negative affect) over the 10-year study period.

Results: Even when accounting for the quality of respondents’ relationships with family and friends, greater perceived support from neighbors was associated with improved environmental mastery, purpose in life, and positive affect. Associations for perceived support and environmental mastery, as well as perceived support and purpose in life, were stronger for adults in early midlife relative to adults in later midlife and young-old age. No evidence was found for linkages between the quality of relationships with neighbors and negative affect.

Conclusion and Implications: Results suggest that supportive relationships with neighbors can facilitate positive states of well-being, particularly in earlier midlife. Findings provide support for the promise of community-based initiatives that focus on facilitating supportive relationships whereby contact among neighbors is not just frequent, but also positive, supportive, and meaningful.  Additional longitudinal research is necessary to further explore how the meaning and role of relationships with neighbors potentially change throughout the lifespan, as well as to understand the meaning of relationships in neighbors across diverse types of communities, such as by race/ethnicity.

Farrell, S. J., Aubry, T., & Coulombe, D. (2004). Neighborhoods and neighbors: Do they contribute to personal well‐being? Journal of Community Psychology, 32(1), 9-25.

Greenfield, E.A., Scharlach, A., Lehning, J.A., Davitt, K.J., (2012). A conceptual framework for examining the promise of the NORC program and Village models to promote aging in place, Journal of Aging Studies, 26(3), 273-284.

Thomas and J. M. Blanchard, (2009). Moving beyond place: aging in community. Generations, 33(2), 12–17.