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Wellbeing depends on social relationship characteristics: comparing different types and providers of support to older adults



This paper examines the associations between different forms of support, who provides the support and the wellbeing of older adults in Germany. Particular attention is paid to the wellbeing differences associated with kin and non-kin providers and with emotional support and instrumental support. In addition, the quality of relationships with kin and non-kin is examined as a moderator of the association between social support and wellbeing. Data for 1,146 respondents to the German Ageing Survey in 2002 were analysed to determine the combinations of emotional or instrumental support, kin or non-kin providers and relationship quality that best predicted wellbeing. Emotional support from kin and instrumental support from non-kin were both found to associate positively with wellbeing. Emotional support from non-kin providers did not associate with wellbeing, whereas instrumental support from kin providers had a negative association with one aspect of wellbeing. Higher relationship quality, whether with kin or non-kin, positively related to wellbeing. Interestingly, the negative impact of instrumental kin support was qualified by relationship quality. In other words, for people with high-quality relationships, receiving instrumental support from kin did not decrease wellbeing. When the relationship with a family carer or supporter is characterised by high quality, the challenges of frailties in old age, such as decreasing capacities and an increasing need for social support, can be met without compromising wellbeing.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Eva-Maria Merz, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, PO Box 11650, 2502ARThe Hague, Netherlands E-mail:


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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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