Changes in Support Networks in Late Middle Age: The Extension of Gender and Educational Differences

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This paper tests whether differences by gender and by educational attainment in contact with friends and family and in support expected from friends and family narrow or widen in late middle age.


The data are drawn from about 4,800 members of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Survey who answered questions about their frequency of contact with social ties and expectations of 3 kinds of help in both 1993, when they were in their early 50s, and again in 2004.


Using lagged dependent variable models, we find that between their 50s and 60s women's network advantages over men and college graduates' network advantages over high school graduates in frequency of social contact widened. The same was roughly true as well for expectations of social support, although here the divergences depended partly on the type of the support: Women gained relative to men in “talk” support and in help from nonkin if ill, but lost ground in financial support. The college-educated gained ground in all sorts of support from nonkin.


These results reinforce concern that late middle age is a period when men and the less educated become yet more disadvantaged in social support, making attention to connectedness yet more critical.

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