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Friends are equally important to men and women, but family matters more for men's well-being
  1. Noriko Cable1,
  2. Mel Bartley1,
  3. Tarani Chandola2,
  4. Amanda Sacker3
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2The Cathie Mash Centre for Census and Survey Research, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  3. 3Institution for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, Colchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Noriko Cable, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; n.cable{at}


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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  • Funding This study is a project from the International Centre for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health, supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-596-28-0001).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval The National Child Developmental Study (NCDS) data are in the public domain, not requiring researchers to obtain ethical approval for the academic use of the data. Ethical approvals from the London Multi-Centre Research Ethics Committees were obtained prior to the data collection by the PI's of the National Childhood Developmental Study at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. An application to use the Biomedical Survey data (the age 45 data) was made to the UK Data Archive, and a special licence to use theses data was granted. Ethical approvals of the sweeps 6 (age 42) and 8 (age 50) of the NCDS were approved by the London Multi-Centre Research Ethics Committees. The ethical approval of the NCDS biomedical survey (age 45) was obtained from the South-East Multi-Centre Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.