Compensatory Processes in the Social Networks of Older Adults

  • Karen S. Rook
  • Tonya L. Schuster
Part of the The Springer Series on Stress and Coping book series (SSSO)


Changes in the composition, functions, or health-related effects of a person’s social network can occur at any point in life, but such changes have aroused special interest among gerontologists for several reasons. First, older adults experience many life events and role transitions (e. g., retirement, bereavement, and residential relocation) that lead to network disruptions and reconfigurations (e. g., Lopata, 1979). Second, the financial and physical limitations that some older adults experience tend to restrict their social network involvement. Third, basic aging processes may produce shifts in the motivations for social contact and in preferences for social partners, resulting in a realignment of social network ties (e. g., Carstensen, 1991). Fourth, the onset of chronic health problems in later life may alter the psychosocial and material resources needed from the social network, and this alteration in turn may precipitate transformations in the functions performed by specific network members (e. g., Felton, 1990; Miller & McFall, 1991; Penning, 1990; Stoller & Pugliesi, 1988) and in the extent to which formal service providers become involved to supplement or supplant the efforts of network members (Noelker & Bass, 1989). Fifth, ample theory and research suggest that features of social network involvement have important consequences for human health and well-being (House, Umberson, & Landis, 1988), thus lending some urgency to efforts to understand how older adults respond to changes in their social networks.


Social Network Network Member Informal Caregiver Relationship Specialization Compensatory Process 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams, B. (1967) Interaction theory and the social network. Sociometry, 30, 64–78.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Antonucci, T. C. (1985). Personal characteristics, social support, and social behavior. In E. Shanas & R. H. Binstock (Eds.). Handbook of aging and the social sciences, 2nd ed. (pp. 94–128). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.Google Scholar
  3. Antonucci, T. C. (1990). Social supports and social relationships. In R. H. Binstock & L. K. George (Eds.), Handbook of aging and the social sciences, 3rd ed. (pp. 205–226). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  4. Antonucci, T. C., & Jackson, J. S. (1987). Social support, interpersonal efficacy, and health: A life course perspective. L. L. Carstensen & B. A. Edelstein (Eds.), Handbook of clinical gerontology (pp. 291–311). New York: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Archbold, P. G. (1982). All-consuming activity: The family as caregiver. Generations, 7, 12.Google Scholar
  6. Arling, G. (1976) The elderly widow and her family, neighbors and friends. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 38, 757–768.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Backman, L., & Dixon, R. A. (1992) Psychological compensation: A theoretical framework. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 259–283.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Baltes, P. B., & Baltes, M. M. (1990). Psychological perspectives on successful aging: The model of selective optimization and compensation. In P. B. Baltes & M. M. Baltes (Eds.), Successful aging: Perspectives from the behavioral sciences (pp. 1–34). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bankoff, E. A. (1981) Effects of friendship support on the psychological well-being of widows. Research in the Interweave of Social Roles: Friendship, 2, 109–139.Google Scholar
  10. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995) The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachment as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brandstadter, J., & Renner, G. (1990) Tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment: Explication and age-related analysis of assimilative and accommodative strategies of coping. Psychology and Aging, 5, 58–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cantor, M. H. (1979) Neighbors and friends: An overlooked resource in the informal support system. Research on Aging, 1, 434–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cantor, M. H., & Little, V. (1985). Aging and social care. In R. H. Binstock & E. Shanas (Eds.), Handbook of aging and the sodai sciences (pp. 745–781). New York: Van Nostrand-Reinhold.Google Scholar
  14. Carstensen, L. L. (1991) Socioemotional and selectivity theory: Social activity in life-span context. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 11, 195–217.Google Scholar
  15. Carstensen, L. L., Hanson, K. A., & Freund, A. M. (1995). Selection and compensation in adulthood. In R. A. Dixon & L. Backman (Eds.), Compensating for psychological deficits and declines: Managing losses and promoting gains (pp. 107–126). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  16. Chatters, L. M., Taylor, R. J., & Jackson, J. S. (1986) Aged blacks’ choices for an informal helper network. Journal of Gerontology, 41, 94–100.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Choi, N. G. (1994) Patterns and determinants of social services utilization: Comparison of the childless elderly and elderly parents living with or apart from their children. Gerontologist, 34, 353–362.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cicirelli, V. G. (1981) Kin relationships of childless and one-child elderly in relation to social services. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 4, 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Coe, R. M., Wolinsky, F. D., Miller, D. J., & Prendergast, J. M. (1984) Complementary and compensatory functions in social network relationships among the elderly. Gerontologist, 24, 396–400.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cohen, S., & Wills, T. A. (1985) Stress, social support, and the buffering hypothesis. Psychological Bulletin, 98, 310–357.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Connidis, I. A., & Davies, L. (1990) Confidants and companions in later life: The place of family and friends. Journal of Gerontology, 45, 141–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Connidis, I. A., & Davies, L. (1992) Confidants and companions: Choices in later life. Journal of Gerontology, 47, S115–S122.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Crohan, S., & Antonucci, T. C. (1989). Friends as a source of social support in old age. In R. G. Adams & R. Blieszner (Eds.), Older adult friendships: Structure and process (pp. 129–146). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  24. Dean, A., Kolody, B., & Wood, P. (1990) Effects of social support from various sources on depression in elderly persons. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 31, 148–161.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dixon, R. A., & Backman, L. (1995). Concepts of compensation: Integrated, differentiated, and Janusfaced. In R. A. Dixon & L. Backman (Eds.), Compensating for psychological defidts and declines: Managing losses and promoting gains (pp. 3–19). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  26. Dono, J. E., Falbe, C. M., Kail, B. L., Litwak, E., Sherman, R. H., & Siegel, D. (1979) Primary groups in old age: Structure and function. Research on Aging, 1, 403–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dykstra, P. A. (1993) The differential availability of relationships and the provision and effectiveness of support to older adults. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 355–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. East, P. L., & Rook, K. S. (1992) Compensatory patterns of support among children’s peer relationships: A test using school friends, nonschool friends, and siblings. Developmental Psychology, 28, 163–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Elwell, F., & Maltbie-Crannell, A. D. (1981) The impact of role loss upon coping resources and life satisfaction of the elderly. Journal of Gerontology, 36, 223–232.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Felton, B. J. (1990). Coping and social support in older people’s experiences of chronic illness. In M. A. P. Stephens, J. H. Crowther, S. E. Hobfoll, & D. L. Tennenbaum (Eds.), Stress and coping in later-life families (pp. 153–171). New York: Hemisphere.Google Scholar
  31. Felton, B. J., & Berry, C. A. (1992). Do the sources of the urban elderly’s social support determine its psychological consequences? Psychology and Aging, 7, 89–97.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ferraro, K. F (1984) Widowhood and social participation in later life: Isolation or compensation? Research on Aging, 6, 451–468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ferraro, K. F., & Farmer, M. M. (1995). Social compensation in adulthood and later life. In R. A. Dixon & L. Backman (Eds.), Compensating for psychological defidts and declines: Managing losses and promoting gains (pp. 127–145). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  34. Ferraro, K. F., Mutran, E., & Barresi, C. M. (1984) Widowhood, health, and friendship support in later life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 25, 245–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Heckhausen, J., & Schulz, R. (1995) A life-span theory of control. Psychological Review, 102, 284–304.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. House, J. S., Umberson, D., & Landis, K. (1988) Structures and processes of social support. Annual Review of Sodology, 14, 293–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Johnson, C. L. (1983) Dyadic family relations and social support. Gerontologist, 23, 377–383.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Johnson, C. L., & Catalano, D. J. (1983) A longitudinal study of family supports to impaired elderly. Gerontologist, 23, 612–625.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Johnson, C. L., & Troll, L. (1992) Family functioning in late late life. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 47, S66–S72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kahn, R. L., & Antonucci, A. (1980). Convoys over the life course: Attachment, roles, and social support. In P. B. Baltes & O. G. Brim (Eds.), Life-span development and behavior, Vol. 3 (pp. 253–286). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  41. Larson, R., Mannell, R., & Zuzanek, J. (1986) Daily well-being of older adults with family and friends. Psychology and Aging, 1, 117–126.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lawton, M. P. (1989). Environmental proactivity and affect in older people. In S. Spacapan & S. Oskamp (Eds.), The sodai psychology of aging (pp. 135–163). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  43. Lee, G. R., & Ishii-Kuntz, M. (1987) Social interaction, loneliness, and emotional well-being among the elderly. Research on Aging, 9, 459–482.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lewinsohn, P. M., & Amenson, C. S. (1978) Some relations between pleasant and unpleasant moodrelated events and depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 644–654.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Litwak, E. (1985). Helping the elderly: The complementary roles of informal networks and formal systems. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  46. Litwak, E., & Figueira, J. (1968) Technological innovations and theoretical functions of primary groups and bureaucratic structures. American Journal of Sociology, 73, 468–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Litwak, E., & Messeri, P. (1989) Organizational theory, social supports, and mortality rates: A theoretical convergence. American Sociological Review, 54, 49–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Litwak, E., & Szelinyi, I. (1969) Primary group structures and their functions. American Sodological Review, 34, 54–64.Google Scholar
  49. Logan, J. R., & Spitze, G. (1994) Informal support and the use of formal services by older Americans. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 49, S25–S34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lopata, H. Z. (1979). Women as widows: Support systems. New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  51. Miller, B., & McFall, S. (1991) Stability and change in the informal task support network of frail older persons. Gerontologist, 31, 735–745.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Morgan, D. L. (1988) Age differences in social network participation. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 55, S129–S137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Noelker, L. S., & Bass, D. M. (1989) Home care for elderly persons: Linkages between formal and informal caregivers. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 44, S63–S70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pearlman, D. N., & Crown, W. H. (1992) Alternative sources of social support and their impacts on institutional risk. Gerontologist, 32, 527–535.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Penning, M. J. (1990) Receipt of assistance by elderly people: Hierarchical selection and task specificity. Gerontologist, 30, 220–227.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Peters, G. R., Hoyt, D. R., Babchuk, N., Kaiser, M., & Iijima, Y. (1987) Primary-group support systems of the aged. Research on Aging, 9, 392–416.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rook, K. S. (1990). Social relationships as a source of companionship: Implications for older adults’ psychological well-being. In B. R. Sarason, I. G. Sarason, & G. R. Pierce (Eds.), Social support: An interactional view (pp. 219–250). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  58. Rook, K. S., & Paplau, L. A. (1982). Perspectives on helping the lonely. In L. A. Peplau & D. Perlman (Eds.), Loneliness: A sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy (pp. 357–378). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  59. Salthouse, T. (1995). Refining the concept of psychological compensation. In R. A. Dixon & L. Backman (Eds.), Compensating for psychological deficits and declines: Managing losses and promoting gains (pp. 127–145). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  60. Schuster, T. L., & Butler, E. W. (1989). Bereavement, social networks, social support, and mental health. In D. A. Lund (Ed.), Older bereaved spouses: Research with practical applications (pp. 55–68). New York: Hemisphere.Google Scholar
  61. Seeman, T. E., & Berkman, L. F. (1988) Structural characteristics of social networks and their relationship with social support in the elderly: Who provides support. Social Science and Medicine, 26, 737–749.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shanas, E. (1979) The family as a social support system in old age. Gerontologist, 19, 169–174.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Simons, R. L. (1983/1984). Specificity and substitution in the social networks of the elderly. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 18, 121–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Spakes, P. R. (1979) Family, friendship and community interaction as related to life satisfaction of the elderly. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 1, 279–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stoller, E. P., & Pugliesi, K. L. (1988) Informal networks of community-based elderly: Changes in composition over time. Research on Aging, 10, 499–516.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stone, R. G., Cafferata, G. L., & Sangl, J. (1987) Caregivers of the frail elderly: A national profile. Gerontologist, 27, 616–626.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Stylianos, S. K., & Vachon, M. L. S. (1993). The role of social support in bereavement. In M. S. Stroebe, W. Stroebe, & R. O. Hansson (Eds.), Handbook of bereavement: Theory, research, and intervention (pp. 397–410). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sussman, M. B. (1977). Family, bureaucracy and the elderly individual: An organizational/linkage perspective. In E. Shanas & M. B. Sussman (Eds.), Family, bureaucracy, and the elderly (pp. 2–20). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Ward, R. A. (1985) Informal networks and well-being in later life: A research agenda. Gerontologist, 25, 55–61.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Weiss, R. S. (1973). Loneliness: The experience of emotional and social isolation. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  71. Weiss, R. S. (1974). The provisions of social relationships. In Z. Rubin (Ed.), Doing unto others (pp. 17–26). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  72. Wood, V., & Robertson, J. (1978) Friendship and kinship interaction: Differential effect on the morale of the elderly. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 40, 367–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Young, J. E. (1982). Loneliness, depression and cognitive therapy. In L. A. Peplau & D. Perlman (Eds.), Loneliness: A sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy (pp. 379–405). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen S. Rook
    • 1
  • Tonya L. Schuster
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social EcologyUniversity of California at IrvineIrvineUSA

Personalised recommendations