On the Locality of Asymmetric Close Relations: Spatial Proximity and Health Differences in a Senior Community

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Abstract

Objective.

A long line of research maintains that physical proximity increases interpersonal contact and boosts the likelihood of voluntary relationships. Proximity effects, however, may be modified by additional, valued characteristics that distinguish people from one another, such as physical health. I examine this interaction between proximity and assortative mechanisms with a complete network of retirement community (RC) residents.

Methods.

Descriptive statistics and an exponential random graph model (ERGM) are used to analyze ties between 123 RC residents. In addition to hypothesized variables, the ERGM approach accounts for structural network processes that generate ties.

Results.

As expected, reports of close relationships were strongly influenced by physical proximity. Also consistent with hypotheses, close tie nominations tended to be asymmetric along a health gradient: People were less likely to identify those in worse health than themselves as a close tie. Physical proximity, moreover, intensified the health-based asymmetries.

Discussion.

Findings suggest that relational inequalities associated with health are most pronounced when they are most local. I conclude by noting broader implications for the study of social networks, health, and physical space among older adults.

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