Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Profiles of social relations among older adults: a cross-cultural approach


This study extends previous research on the profiles of social relations in three ways: (1) by including both functional and qualitative characteristics of social relations; (2) by examining the association of these profiles with mental and physical health and mortality; and (3) by exploring these profiles and associations in two cultures. Using samples of approximately 500 adults aged 60 or more years from the Social Relations and Mental Health over the Life Course studies in both the United States and Japan, separate cluster analyses were conducted for each country. The common or shared network types were labelled ‘diverse’, ‘restricted’, ‘friend-focused’ and ‘family-focused’, but in the US we found two types of ‘friend-focused’ networks (supported and unsupported) and two types of ‘restricted’ networks (structurally- and functionally-restricted). In addition, we found a unique network type in Japan: ‘married and distal’. Multivariate analyses of variance and Cox regressions revealed that whereas individuals in the functionally restricted network type had the worse physical and mental health in the US, Americans in the structurally-restricted network type had the lowest survival rates at a 12-year follow-up. Interestingly, there were no wellbeing differences by network type in Japan. The findings have been interpreted in the light of social relations theories, with special emphasis on the importance of taking a multidimensional perspective and exploring cultural variation.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Katherine Fiori, Intercultural Institute on Human Development and Aging, 191 Willoughby Street, Suite 1A, Brooklyn, New York 11201, United States of America. E-mail:
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

T. C. Antonucci and H. Akiyama 1987. Social networks in adult life and a preliminary examination of the convoy model. Journal of Gerontology, 42, 5, 519–27.

H. B. Bosworth and K. W. Schaie 1997. The relationship of social environment, social networks, and health outcomes in the Seattle Longitudinal Study: two analytical approaches. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 52B, 5, P197205.

V. G. Cicirelli 1989. Feelings of attachment to siblings and wellbeing in later life. Psychology and Aging, 4, 2, 211–6.

A. Dean , B. Kolody and P. Wood 1990. Effects of social support from various sources on depression in elderly persons. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 31, June, 148–61.

B. J. Felton and C. A. Berry 1992. Do the sources of the urban elderly's social support determine its psychological consequences? Psychology and Aging, 7, 1, 8997.

R. A. R. Gurung , S. E. Taylor and T. E. Seeman 2003. Accounting for changes in social support among married older adults: insights from the MacArthur studies of successful aging. Psychology and Aging, 18, 3, 487–96.

M. Izuhara 2004. Negotiating family support? The ‘generational contract’ between long-term care and inheritance. Journal of Social Policy, 33, 4, 649–65.

M. R. Janevic , K. J. Ajrouch , A. Merline , H. Akiyama and T. C. Antonucci 2000. The social relations-physical health connection: a comparison of elderly samples from the United States and Japan. Journal of Health Psychology, 5, 4, 413–29.

J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser and T. L. Newton 2001. Marriage and health: his and hers. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 4, 472503.

S. Kitayama , H. R. Markus and M. Kurokawa 2000. Culture, emotion, and well-being: good feelings in Japan and the United States. Cognition and Emotion, 14, 1, 93124.

T. Koropeckyj-Cox 1998. Loneliness and depression in middle and old age: are the childless more vulnerable? Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 53B, 6, S303–12.

W. Koyano , M. Hashimoto , T. Fukawa , H. Shibata and A. Gunji 1994. The social support system of the Japanese elderly. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 9, 3, 323–33.

J. E. Lansford 2004. Links between family relationships and best friendships in the United States and Japan. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 59, 4, 287304.

R. Larson , R. Mannell and J. Zuzanek 1986. Daily well-being of older adults with friends and family. Psychology and Aging, 1, 2, 117–26.

J. Lie 2001. Multi-ethnic Japan. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

H. Litwin 1995. The social networks of elderly immigrants: an analytic typology. Journal of Aging Studies, 9, 2, 155–74.

H. Litwin 2001. Social network type and morale in old age. The Gerontologist, 41, 4, 516–24.

H. Litwin 2004. Social networks, ethnicity and public home-care utilisation. Ageing & Society, 24, 6, 921–39.

H. Litwin and R. Landau 2000. Social network type and social support among the old-old. Journal of Aging Studies, 14, 2, 213–28.

K. Lüscher and K. Pillemer 1998. Intergenerational ambivalence: a new approach to the study of parent-child relations in later life. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 2, 413–25.

H. R. Markus and S. Kitayama 1991. Culture and the self: implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 2, 224–53.

G. E. Matt and A. Dean 1993. Social support from friends and psychological distress among elderly persons: moderator effects of age. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 34, September, 187200.

P. J. Maxson , S. Berg and G. McClearn 1997. Multidimensional patterns of aging: a cluster-analytic approach. Experimental Aging Research, 23, 1, 2331.

J. G. Miller 1999. Cultural psychology: implications for basic psychological theory. Psychological Science, 10, 2, 8591.

J. G. Miller 2002. Bringing culture to basic psychological theory – beyond individualism and collectivism: comment on Oyserman et al. (2002). Psychological Bulletin, 128, 1, 97109.

H. Okabayashi , J. Liang , N. Krause , H. Akiyama and H. Sugisawa 2004. Mental health among older adults in Japan: do sources of social support and negative interaction make a difference? Social Science and Medicine, 59, 11, 2259–70.

J. Phillips , M. Bernard , C. Phillipson and J. Ogg 2000. Social support in later life: a study of three areas. British Journal of Social Work, 30, 6, 837–53.

M. Pinquart 2003. Loneliness in married, widowed, divorced, and never-married older adults. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 20, 1, 3153.

L. S. Radloff 1977. The CES-D scale: a self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 3, 385401.

A. Rokach , H. Bacanli and G. Ramberan 2000. Coping with loneliness: a cross-cultural comparison. European Psychologist, 5, 4, 302–11.

F. Rothbaum , M. Pott , H. Azuma , K. Mikaye and J. Weisz 2000. The development of close relationships in Japan and the United States: paths of symbiotic harmony and generative tension. Child Development, 71, 5, 1121–42.

D. W. Russell and C. E. Cutrona 1991. Social support, stress, and depressive symptoms among the elderly: test of a process model. Psychology and Aging, 6, 2, 190201.

C. D. Ryff and B. Singer 2000. Interpersonal flourishing: a positive health agenda for the new millennium. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4, 1, 3044.

J. F. Schumaker , J. D. Shea , M. M. Monfries and G. Groth-Marnat 1993. Loneliness and life satisfaction in Japan and Australia. Journal of Psychology, 127, 1, 6571.

T. E. Seeman 1996. Social ties and health: the benefits of social integration. Annals of Epidemiology, 6, 5, 442–51.

T. E. Seeman 2000. Health promoting effects of friends and family on health outcomes in older adults. American Journal of Health Promotion, 14, 6, 362–70.

R.L. Simons 1983–4. Specificity and substitution in the social networks of the elderly. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 18, 2, 121–39.

J. Smith and P. B. Baltes 1997. Profiles of psychological functioning in the old and oldest old. Psychology and Aging, 12, 3, 458–72.

H. Sugisawa , J. Liang and X. Liu 1994. Social networks, social support, and mortality among older people in Japan. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 49, 1, S313.

H. Sugisawa , H. Shibata , G. W. Hougham , Y. Sugihara and J. Liang 2002. The impact of social ties on depressive symptoms in US and Japanese elderly. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 4, 785804.

K. Takahashi , N. Ohara , T. C. Antonucci and H. Akiyama 2002. Commonalities and differences in close relationships among the Americans and Japanese: a comparison by the individualism/collectivism concept. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26, 5, 453–65.

K. Takahashi , J. Tamura and M. Tokoro 1997. Patterns of social relationships and psychological well-being among the elderly. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 21, 3, 417–30.

H. C. Triandis 2001. Individualism-collectivism and personality. Journal of Personality, 69, 6, 907–24.

T. van Tilburg and M. B. van Groenou 2002. Network and health changes among older Dutch adults. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 4, 697713.

G. C. Wenger 1997. Social networks and the prediction of elderly people at risk. Ageing and Mental Health, 1, 4, 311–20.

A. E. Willson , K. M. Shuey and G. H. Jr Elder 2003. Ambivalence in the relationship of adult children to aging parents and in-laws. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 4, 1055–72.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 70 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 195 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd May 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.