Social Networks and Mental Health: Evidence from Share

Sarah Gibney, University College Dublin
Mark E. McGovern, Harvard School of Public Health and University College Dublin

This study examines the effect of social support network type on mental health, using data on adults aged 50+ from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. We establish the existence of four distinct types of social interaction: self-contained, spouse-reliant, family-dependent, and community-integrated. These groups differ in terms of a number of socio demographic indicators. Network variation across countries is also evident, with similar cross-country differences in depression. We find a robust result that being in a social network characterised by low levels of support and social engagement is associated with higher levels of mental distress, but only for women. The magnitude of this effect is large and appears to be mediated through feelings of loneliness. There is no evidence that being in such a network exacerbates the distress associated with traumatic events. Strong spousal support is also found to have a positive effect, again only for women.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Session 159: Social Networks, Social Capital, and Aging