Abstract: Influence of Neighborhood Trust on Older Adults' Loneliness and Social Isolation: A Two-Wave Longitudinal Study (Society for Social Work and Research 22nd Annual Conference - Achieving Equal Opportunity, Equity, and Justice)

Influence of Neighborhood Trust on Older Adults' Loneliness and Social Isolation: A Two-Wave Longitudinal Study

Sunday, January 14, 2018: 10:29 AM
Independence BR G (ML 4) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jie Yang, MSW, PhD Candidate, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Yoosun Chu, MSc, MSW, PhD Candidate, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Background/Purpose: Social capital has been dropping for decades. Meanwhile, people are increasingly feeling lonely in modern societies. Social isolation has recently been listed as one of the 12 Grand Challenges in social work. Interventions for socially isolated older adults have been focused on individuals or small groups. However, it would be more efficient to operate at the level of neighborhoods/communities. Utilizing social capital theory, the current study examines whether neighboorhood trust/cohesion influences older adults’ loneliness, number of close friends, and perceived support from friends (quality of friendship).

We had three hypotheses. Hypothesis 1: Neighborhood trust is negatively associated with loneliness. Hypothesis 2: Neighborhood trust is positively associated with the number of friends an older adult has. Hypothesis 3: Neighborhood trust is positively associated with perceived support from friends.

Methods: Data and Sample. This study used two waves (2010 and 2014) of longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which collects biannual panel survey data from a representative sample over the age of 50 in the United States. After matching the sample from two waves, we first excluded those who were either age-ineligible spouses, dead, or institutionalized. We also excluded those who had missing values for second wave variables due to attrition. The final sample size was 5,814.

Measures. We had three outcomes. Loneliness was measured by an adapted UCLA Loneliness Scale. Number of friends measures the number of friends with whom respondents perceived as having a close relationship. Perceived social support from friends measures the quality of social network regarding friends. The latter two outcomes were transformed due to skewness. Neighborhood trust/cohesion is a 4-item scale asking to what degree respondents agree or disagree with the following statements: I feel part of this area, most people in this area can be trusted, people are friendly, and people will help you. We controlled for self-reported health, neuroticism and extraversion in personality, and demographics. 

Analytic strategy. We used multiple imputations to handle missing values. We adopted the Lagged Dependent Approach for modeling longitudinal data, which requires controlling for baseline outcomes. Our independent variable and control variables were all baseline variables. We performed OLS regression using the imputed dataset with robust standard errors to control for clustering within a household and heteroscedasticity problems.

Results: In line with our hypotheses, we found that neighborhood trust/cohesion was associated with a decrease in loneliness, an increase in both number of friends and perceived support from friends for older adults, after controlling for baseline outcomes and other variables.

Conclusions and implications: Our results provide longitudinal evidence towards the positive effect of neighborhood cohesion/trust on older adults’ social isolation. A cohesive neighborhood may not only make older adults feel less lonely but also increase the friends they make and the quality of friendship. Future studies can be directed towards intervention research targeting building a cohesive community/neighborhood through community engagement, which will help reduce the deleterious effect of social isolation for older adults.