IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The health benefits of network growth: New evidence from a national survey of older adults


  • Cornwell, Benjamin
  • Laumann, Edward O.


Scholars who study how social networks affect older adults' health are often concerned with the prospect of declining social connectedness in late life. This paper shifts the focus to older adults' tendencies to cultivate new social ties. This process of network growth can improve access to social resources, boost self-esteem, reduce loneliness, and increase physical activity. We therefore examine the link between tie cultivation and health using new longitudinal data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), which recorded changes in older adults' confidant network rosters over a period of about five years. Most respondents (81.8%) added at least one new network member during the study period, and most (59.4%) cultivated multiple new confidant relationships. Longitudinal analyses suggest that the addition of new confidants is associated with improvements in functional, self-rated, and psychological health, net of baseline connectedness as well as any network losses that occurred during the same period. Network losses were associated with physical but not psychological well-being. These findings underscore the importance of distinguishing between concurrent processes that underlie social network change in later life, and highlight the need for additional research on the mechanisms by which network change may improve health.

Suggested Citation

  • Cornwell, Benjamin & Laumann, Edward O., 2015. "The health benefits of network growth: New evidence from a national survey of older adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 94-106.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:125:y:2015:i:c:p:94-106
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.09.011

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Denis Gerstorf & Christina Röcke & Margie E. Lachman, 2010. "Antecedent--Consequent Relations of Perceived Control to Health and Social Support: Longitudinal Evidence for Between-Domain Associations Across Adulthood," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 66(1), pages 61-71.
    2. Yunqing Li, 2007. "Recovering From Spousal Bereavement in Later Life: Does Volunteer Participation Play a Role?," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 62(4), pages 257-266.
    3. Candace L. Kemp & Mary M. Ball & Carole Hollingsworth & Molly M. Perkins, 2012. "Strangers and Friends: Residents' Social Careers in Assisted Living," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 67(4), pages 491-502.
    4. Giordano, Giuseppe N. & Lindstrom, Martin, 2010. "The impact of changes in different aspects of social capital and material conditions on self-rated health over time: A longitudinal cohort study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(5), pages 700-710, March.
    5. Erwin J. Tan & George W. Rebok & Qilu Yu & Constantine E. Frangakis & Michelle C. Carlson & Tao Wang & Michelle Ricks & Elizabeth K. Tanner & Sylvia McGill & Linda P. Fried, 2009. "The Long-Term Relationship Between High-Intensity Volunteering and Physical Activity in Older African American Women," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 64(2), pages 304-311.
    6. Teresa E. Seeman & Dana M. Miller-Martinez & Sharon Stein Merkin & Margie E. Lachman & Patricia A. Tun & Arun S. Karlamangla, 2011. "Histories of Social Engagement and Adult Cognition: Midlife in the U.S. Study," Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Gerontological Society of America, vol. 66(suppl_1), pages 141-152.
    7. Richard Williams, 2006. "Generalized ordered logit/partial proportional odds models for ordinal dependent variables," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 6(1), pages 58-82, March.
    8. Deflem, Mathieu, 1989. "From anomie to anomia and anomic depression: A sociological critique on the use of anomie in psychiatric research," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 627-634, January.
    9. Berkman, Lisa F. & Glass, Thomas & Brissette, Ian & Seeman, Teresa E., 2000. "From social integration to health: Durkheim in the new millennium," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 51(6), pages 843-857, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Goldman, Alyssa W., 2016. "All in the family: The link between kin network bridging and cardiovascular risk among older adults," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 137-149.
    2. repec:spr:soinre:v:138:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s11205-017-1680-7 is not listed on IDEAS


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:125:y:2015:i:c:p:94-106. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.