Life goes on: Influence of social network on mental health after late-life partnership dissolution

Celia Fernandez-Carro, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia
Jordi Gumà, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

The literature on the relationship between partnership status and health points that living with a partner is associated with better health outcomes when measured in terms of mortality, morbidity or general well-being. Especially in mid-life and old age, the protective effect of a partner is explained by the construction of a wider social network which can be of help in case of necessity. Indeed, the features of individuals’ social networks (i.e. structure, size and subjective quality of social network) are associated with the mental dimension of health independent of marital status (Fiori et al., 2006; Litwin and Shiovitz-Ezra, 2011).

We aim at assessing the importance of the features of social networks in depression levels after the end of a union distinguishing between separatio/divorce and the death of partner. For this purpose we explore the association between depression and characteristics of social networks (extension, structure and level of satisfaction with the social network) in old age, comparing their protective effect over different types of union interruption; divorced and widow. Our hypothesis are: 1) those with an extended social network might show lower levels of depression after finishing their relationship; 2) there must be differences in the values of depression according to the reason that origins the end of the relationship, separation or loss of partner. We expect to find gender differences in our results according to different male and female probabilities of becoming divorced or widow as well as differences in social networks profiles.

Preliminary results from linear regression model with depression scale as a dependent variable and the interaction between "Time since the end of partnership happened" and "Size of the social network" confirm the protective effect of high social networks as well as significant differences by sex (women display higher values of depression).

Presented in Session 15: Family Dynamics and Health