Social Disadvantage and Network Turnover

Benjamin Cornwell, Cornell University

Scholars recognize that later life is period when a variety of experiences can drastically alter one’s social network. This study examines to what extent socially disadvantaged groups experience this process differently than others do. I examine longitudinal egocentric social network data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationally representative study of older adults conducted between 2005 and 2011. Regression analyses show that African-Americans and low-SES individuals lost more confidants over the study period – especially due to death – than did whites and those who had college degrees. African-Americans also added more confidants to their networks than did whites. Neither African-Americans nor low-SES individuals were able to match network losses with network additions to the extent that members of other groups did, though, resulting in more network shrinkage and less network growth than was seen in other groups. Explanations for this disproportionate turnover are discussed.

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Presented in Session 24: Aging and Family Change