American Sociological Association

The Social Connectedness of Older Adults: A National Profile

For decades, scholars have wrestled with the assumption that old age is characterized by social isolation. However, there has been no systematic, nationally representative evaluation of this possibility in terms of social network connectedness. In this article, we develop a profile of older adults' social integration with respect to nine dimensions of interpersonal networks and voluntary associations. We use new data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a population-based study of noninstitutionalized older Americans ages 57 to 85, conducted in 2005 to 2006. Results suggest that among older adults, age is negatively related to network size, closeness to network members, and number of non-primary-group ties. On the other hand, age is positively related to frequency of socializing with neighbors, religious participation, and volunteering. In addition, age has a U-shaped relationship with volume of contact with network members. These findings are inconsistent with the view that old age has a universal negative influence on social connectedness. Instead, life-course factors have divergent consequences for different forms of social connectedness. Indeed, some laterlife transitions, such as retirement and bereavement, may prompt greater connectedness. We conclude by urging increased dialogue between social gerontological and social network research.


Benjamin Cornwell, Edward O. Laumann, L. Philip Schumm





Starting Page


Ending Page