Our study contributes to the literature acknowledging the joint role of social networks and social cohesion in shaping individual’s health, focusing on the older population aged 50 and over. Exploiting rich ego-centered social network data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe and following the conceptual model of social integration and health proposed by Berkman et al. (Soc Sci Med 51:843–857. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(00)00065-4, 2000), we estimate multilevel models of self-reported and observer-measured later-life health outcomes. These models simultaneously account for (a) characteristics of 39,551 respondents’ personal social networks and (b) a measure of social cohesion—namely, participation in social organizations—across 57 Continental European regions, clustered in 14 countries. We find significant associations between individuals’ health and various social network characteristics (size, support, quality) as well as social cohesion. Moreover, cross-level interaction effects suggest that the social-network-health nexus is contextually bound. We conclude with a discussion of limitations and perspectives for future research.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aida, J., Kondo, K., Kawachi, I., Subramanian, S. V., Ichida, Y., Hirai, H., et al. (2013). Does social capital affect the incidence of functional disability in older Japanese? A prospective population-based cohort study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 67, 42–47. doi:10.1136/jech-2011-200307.
Bennet, K. M. (2005). Social engagement as a longitudinal predictor of objective and subjective health. European Journal of Ageing, 2, 48–55. doi:10.1007/s10433-005-0016-7.
Berkman, L. F., Glass, T., Brissette, I., & Seeman, T. E. (2000). From social integration to health: Durkheim in the new millennium. Social Science & Medicine, 51, 843–857. doi:10.1016/S0277-9536(00)00065-4.
Börsch-Supan, A., Brandt, M., Hunkler, C., Kneip, T., Korbmacher, J., Malter, F., et al. (2013). Data resource profile: The Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). International Journal of Epidemiology, 42, 992–1001. doi:10.1093/ije/dyt088.
Cornwell, B., & Laumann, E. O. (2013). The health benefits of network growth: New evidence from a national survey of older adults. Social Science & Medicine,. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.09.011.
Cornwell, B., Laumann, E. O., & Schumm, L. P. (2008). The social connectedness of older adults: A national profile. American Sociological Review, 73, 185–203. doi:10.1177/000312240807300201.
Cornwell, E. Y., & Waite, L. J. (2012). Social network resources and management of hypertension. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 53, 215–231. doi:10.1177/0022146512446832.
Deindl, C., Hank, K., & Brandt, M. (2013). Social networks and self-rated health in later life. In A. Börsch-Supan, M. Brandt, H. Litwin, & G. Weber (Eds.), Active ageing and solidarity between generations in Europe (pp. 301–309). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.
Dickes, P., & Valentova, M. (2013). Construction, validation and application of the measurement of social cohesion in 47 European countries and regions. Social Indicators Research, 113, 827–846. doi:10.1007/s11205-009-9551-5.
Elia, L., d’Hombres, B., Weber, A., & Saltelli, A. (2013). Income inequality and social outcomes: Bivariate correlations at NUTS1 level. Luxembourg: European Union.
Fiorillo, D., & Sabatini, F. (2011). Quality and quantity: The role of social interactions in self-reported individual health. Social Science & Medicine, 73, 1644–1652. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.09.007.
Forrest, R., & Kearns, A. (2001). Social cohesion, social capital and the neighbourhood. Urban Studies, 38, 2125–2143. doi:10.1080/00420980120087081.
Hank, K. (2011). How “successful” do older europeans age? Findings from SHARE. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 66B, 230–236. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbq089.
Hox, J. J., & Maas, C. J. M. (2001). The accuracy of multilevel structural equation modeling with pseudobalanced groups and small samples. Structural Equation Modeling, 8, 157–174. doi:10.1207/S15328007SEM0802_1.
Huxhold, O., Fiori, K. L., & Windsor, T. D. (2013). The dynamic interplay of social network characteristics, subjective well-being, and health: The costs and benefits of socio-emotional selectivity. Psychology and Aging, 28, 3–16. doi:10.1037/a0030170.
Islam, M. K., Merlo, J., Kawachi, I., Lindström, M., Burström, K., & Gerdtham, U.-G. (2006). Does it really matter where you live? A panel data multilevel analysis of swedish municipality-level social capital on individual health-related quality of life. Health Economics, Policy and Law, 1, 209–235. doi:10.1017/S174413310600301X.
Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. (2000). Social cohesion, social capital, and health. In L. Berkman & I. Kawachi (Eds.), Social epidemiology (pp. 174–190). New York: Oxford University Press.
Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B. P., & Glass, R. (1999). Social capital and self-rated health: A contextual analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 89, 1187–1193. doi:10.2105/AJPH.89.8.1187.
Kline, R. B. (2011). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling. New York, London: The Guilford Press.
Kohli, M., Hank, K., & Künemund, H. (2009). The social connectedness of older Europeans: Patterns, dynamics and contexts. Journal of European Social Policy, 19, 327–340. doi:10.1177/1350506809341514.
Litwin, H. (2006). Social networks and self-rated health. A cross-cultural examination among older Israelis. Journal of Aging and Health, 18, 335–358. doi:10.1177/0898264305280982.
Litwin, H. (2009). Social networks and well-being: A comparison of older people in Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 65, 599–608. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbp104.
Litwin, H., & Stoeckel, K. J. (2014). Confidant network types and well-being among older Europeans. The Gerontologist, 54, 762–772. doi:10.1093/geront/gnt056.
Litwin, H., Stoeckel, K., Roll, A., Shiovitz-Ezra, S., & Kotte, M. (2013). Social network measurement in SHARE wave four. In F. Malter & A. Börsch-Supan (Eds.), SHARE Wave 4, innovations and methodology (pp. 18–38). Munich: MEA—Max-Planck-Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.
Meuleman, B., & Billiet, J. (2009). A Monte Carlo sample size study: How many countries are needed for accurate multilevel SEM? Survey Research Methods, 3, 45–58.
Parker, M. G., & Thorslund, M. (2007). Health trends in the elderly population: Getting better and getting worse. The Gerontologist, 47, 150–158. doi:10.1093/geront/47.2.150.
Ploubidis, G. B., & Grundy, E. (2011). Health measurement in population surveys: Combining information from self-reported and observer-measured health indicators. Demography, 48, 699–724. doi:10.1007/s13524-011-0028-1.
Poortinga, W. (2006a). Social capital: An individual of collective resource for health? Social Science & Medicine, 62, 292–302.
Poortinga, W. (2006b). Social relations or social capital? Individual and community health effects of bonding social capital. Social Science & Medicine, 63, 255–270. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.11.039.
Portes, A. (1998). Social capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 1–24.
Rabe-Hesketh, S., & Skrondal, A. (2008). Multilevel and longitudinal modeling using Stata. College Station, TX: Stata Press.
Rostila, M. (2013). The social capital of welfare states and its significance for population health. In I. Kawachi, S. Takao, & S. V. Subramanian (Eds.), Global perspectives on social capital and health (pp. 277–305). New York: Springer.
Schafer, M. H. (2013). Structural advantages of good health in old age: Investigating the health-begets-position hypothesis with a full social network. Research on Aging, 35, 348–370. doi:10.1177/0164027512441612.
Shen, Y., Yeatts, D. E., Cai, T., Yang, P. Q., & Cready, C. M. (2014). Social capital and self-rated health among-middle aged and older adults: A multilevel analysis. Research on Aging, 36, 497–521. doi:10.1177/0164027513505624.
Shiovitz-Ezra, S., & Litwin, H. (2012). Social network type and health-related behaviors: Evidence from an American national survey. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 901–904. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.031.
Sirven, N., & Debrand, T. (2012). Social capital and health of older Europeans: Causal pathways and health inequalities. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 1288–1295. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.05.009.
Smith, K. P., & Christakis, N. A. (2008). Social networks and health. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 405–429. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.34.040507.134601.
Snijders, T., & Bosker, R. (1999). Multilevel analysis: An introduction to basic and advanced multilevel modeling. London: Sage.
Stephens, C., Alpass, F., Towers, A., & Stevenson, B. (2011). The effects of types of social networks, perceived social support, and loneliness on the health of older people: Accounting for the social context. Journal of Aging and Health, 23, 887–911. doi:10.1177/0898264311400189.
Subramanian, S. V., Kim, D. J., & Kawachi, I. (2002). Social trust and self-rated health in US communities: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Urban Health, 79, S21–S34.
Thanakwang, K., & Soonthorndhada, K. (2011). Mechanisms by which social support networks influence healthy aging among Thai community-dwelling elderly. Journal of Aging and Health, 23, 1352–1378. doi:10.1177/0898264311418503.
Thoits, P. A. (2011). Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52, 145–161. doi:10.1177/0022146510395592.
Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51, S54–S66. doi:10.1177/0022146510383501.
van Tilburg, T. (1998). Losing and gaining in old age: Changes in personal network size and social support in a four-year longitudinal study. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 53B, S313–S323. doi:10.1093/geronb/53B.
van Tilburg, T., & Broese van Groenou, M. (2002). Network and health changes among older Dutch adults. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 697–713. doi:10.1111/1540-4560.00041.
Veenstra, G. (2005). Location, location, location: Contextual and compositional health effects of social capital in British Columbia, Canada. Social Science & Medicine, 60, 2059–2071. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.08.064.
We are grateful for comments by three anonymous reviewers. This paper uses data from SHARE Wave 4 release 1.1.1, as of March 28th 2013 (DOI: 10.6103/SHARE.w4.111). The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the 5th Framework Programme (Project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic programme Quality of Life), through the 6th Framework Programme (Projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT-2006-062193, COMPARE, CIT5-CT-2005-028857, and SHARELIFE, CIT4-CT-2006-028812) and through the 7th Framework Programme (SHARE-PREP, No. 211909, SHARE-LEAP, No. 227822 and SHARE M4, No. 261982). Additional funding from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, R21 AG025169, Y1-AG-4553-01, IAG BSR06-11 and OGHA 04-064) and the German Ministry of Education and Research as well as from various national sources is gratefully acknowledged (see www.share-project.org for a full list of funding institutions).
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Deindl, C., Brandt, M. & Hank, K. Social Networks, Social Cohesion, and Later-Life Health. Soc Indic Res 126, 1175–1187 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-015-0926-5
- Social networks
- Social cohesion
- Multilevel analysis