Neighborhood Social Cohesion & Social Capital: Implications for Older Adult Well-Being

It has been well-established that singlehood and poverty in older adulthood are associated with lower subjective well-being. However, a recent study published in the Gerontologist suggests that various aspects of one’s social environment may attenuate the adverse effects of marital status and income on well-being. Namely, neighborhood services, social capital, and social cohesion may act as buffers against the negative effects of being single and poor on the well-being of older adults.

Researchers from the Netherlands surveyed 945 independently living adults age 70 or older in four districts of Rotterdam, including 72 neighborhoods. Participants responded to questions about neighborhood social capital (support obtained via indirect ties), social cohesion, neighborhood security and quality of services, as well as relevant individual characteristics (e.g., education, income, age, gender, and individual-level social capital [support obtained via direct ties]). Fitting a hierarchical random effects model to account for the hierarchical structure of the study design, the researchers found that neighborhood social capital, social cohesion, neighborhood services, and a wealth of demographic variables (being born in the Netherlands, house ownership, education, income, social capital of individuals, and neighborhood security) were significantly related to the well-being of older adults. Neighborhood social capital, social cohesion, and neighborhood services mediated the effects of marital status and income on well-being.

The results of this study have implications for policy and public health professionals aiming to develop interventions that promote active aging. The context of everyday life is as important, if not more important, than socioeconomic characteristics when considering ways to develop health- and well-being-related policies. Despite the fact that certain uncontrollable demographic characteristics like widowhood and poverty tend to be associated with lower subjective well-being in older adults, improving the quality of neighborhood services may help individuals overcome such deficits in their quality of life.

Cramm, JM, van Dijk, HM, Nieboer, AP. The importance of neighborhood social cohesion and social capital for the well being of older adults in the community. The Gerontologist (2013); DOI: 10.1093/geront/gns052