Social Relationships in Later Life: The Role of Childhood Circumstances

Sarah Gibney, University College Dublin
Mark E. McGovern, Harvard University

Social relationships predict health and emotional wellbeing across the life course. However, it is not known whether gradients in social engagement in later life mirror the socio-economic and health gradients which are apparent in childhood. This study investigates the long-term impact of these childhood circumstances on adult social relationships. Using nationally representative data on older Europeans from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), we determine the extent to which aspects of current social engagement (as measured by the size and satisfaction with respondents’ social networks and social activities undertaken) are predicted by childhood circumstances. The data allow us to distinguish between the associations that link alternative components of childhood circumstance (including health, socio-economic status, education and parental separation) with social engagement. Results confirm that there are diverse pathways linking early life conditions to later outcomes.

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Presented in Poster Session 3: Health of Women, Children, and Families