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Friends are equally important to men and women, but family matters more for men's well-being


Background People with larger social networks are known to have better well-being; however, little is known about (1) the association with socio-demographic factors that may predict the size and composition of social networks and (2) whether the association with well-being is independent of pre-existing psychological health or socio-demographic factors.

Methods The authors used information collected from 3169 men and 3512 women who were born in Great Britain in 1958. First, age on leaving full-time education, partnership and employment status at age 42 were used to predict the size and composition of cohort members' social networks at age 45 using ordered logistic regression. Second, using multiple linear regression, the associations between social network size by composition (relatives and friends) and psychological well-being at age 50 were assessed, adjusting for socio-demographic factors and psychological health at age 42.

Results Not having a partner and staying in full-time education after age 16 was associated with a smaller kinship network in adults. Having a smaller friendship network at age 45 was associated with poorer psychological well-being among adults at age 50, over and above socio-demographic factors and previous psychological health. Additionally, having a smaller kinship network was associated with poorer psychological well-being among men.

Conclusions Having a well-integrated friendship network is a source of psychological well-being among middle-aged adults, while kinship networks appear to be more important for men's well-being than for women's. These relationships are independent of education, material status and prior psychological health.

  • Cohort studies
  • social networks
  • well-being
  • gender differences
  • alcohol
  • mental health
  • social capital
  • social inequalities

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