Getting Together: Social Contact Frequency Across the Life Span
Frequent social interactions are strongly linked to positive affect, longevity, and good health. Although there has been extensive research on changes in the size of social networks over time, little attention has been given to the development of contact frequency across the life span. In this cohort-sequential longitudinal study, we examined intraindividual changes in the frequency of social contact with family and nonfamily members, and potential moderators of these changes. The data come from the 1998, 2003, 2008, and 2013 waves of the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) study (N = 36,716; age range: 17–85 years). Using latent growth curve analysis, we found that the frequency of in-person contact with family members remained relatively stable across the life span. In contrast, the frequency of visits to and from nonfamily members (neighbors, friends, and acquaintances) declined following a cubic trajectory and dropped below the frequency of family visits when respondents were in their mid-30s. Relationship status and gender had a slight effect on both of these relationship trajectories. Subjective current health status and employment status influenced the life span trajectory of nonfamily social contact only. Changes of residence and the birth of a child, both of which constitute major turning points in the life course, did not affect the life span trajectory of either family or nonfamily in-person contact. The findings are discussed here in the context of earlier findings and in relation to socioemotional selectivity and social convoy theory and the evolutionary life history approach.