Abstract: Assessing the Multi-Dimensional Construct of Social Connectedness Among Sexual and Gender Minority Older Adults (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Assessing the Multi-Dimensional Construct of Social Connectedness Among Sexual and Gender Minority Older Adults

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Camelback A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Hyun-Jun Kim, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Karen Fredriksen Goldsen, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, WA
Meghan Romanelli, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, New York University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: According to the Health Equity Promotion Model (HEPM), social resources are essential to alleviating social isolation and improving social connectivity, health, and well-being among sexual and gender minority (SGM) older adults. Current empirical research is still limited in understanding the multi-dimensional characteristics of social connectedness and the unique social relations among SGM older adults. These characteristics include a high proportion of families of choice or friends in this population’s support network and a low proportion of children. Guided by the HEPM, the National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study (NHAS) collected survey data from SGM older adults using a set of measures of social connectedness. This study describes the rationale behind the measurements of social resources and tests them as a scale utilizing the conceptual framework of the Social Convoy Model.

Methods: We analyzed the first wave of the longitudinal NHAS data collected in 2014 from SGM adults who were born in or prior to 1964 and were residing in the United States. The participants (N = 2,450) were recruited via the contact lists of aging agencies serving SGM older adults across every United States Census division and through a chain-referral sampling method. We carried out descriptive statistics for key social connectedness measures, tested the reliability and item-total correlations of the measures as a scale, and conducted an exploratory factor analysis with a promax rotation.

Results: Participants were demographically diverse; twenty-two percent were people of color, and half were male. Although most identified their sexual orientation as gay or lesbian (72%), 17% identified as bisexual, and 17% as transgender. About a third were living at or below 200% federal poverty level. Participant’s average social network size was 8.2. Less than a half (44%) were married or partnered. While only about a quarter of respondents reported having had close relationships with their children, 81% identified close relationships with two or more friends. The internal reliability of 19 indicators of social resources was 0.8, and all item-rest correlations were moderate to strong. Three distinct factor structures emerged: relational social connectedness (social network size, social network diversity, frequency of contact), collective social connectedness (social participation, community engagement), and perceived social connectedness (social support and feeling of social isolation).

Conclusions and Implications: The measures used in the NHAS were able to assess unique characteristics of social connectedness among SGM older adults. These measures were suggested as a scale to holistically understand various aspects of social connectedness and its role in enhancing health and well-being in historically marginalized populations. In future research incorporating longitudinal data, the mediating and moderating role of social connectedness in the mechanisms explaining health and well-being should be further tested. Modifiable factors identified in the research could be addressed in designing interventions and policies to eliminate health disparities and promote optimal aging among SGM older adults.