Having family members around is more important than having many friends, particularly for adults older than 57. That is a surprising finding presented Sunday at the 111th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). Researchers found that people who are extremely close to family members have a 6 percent risk of mortality after retirement compared with a 14 percent for adults who do not feel close to family members.
The study authors, who are from the University of Chicago and University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, were impressed to learn that having a bunch of friends apparently does not make any difference when it comes to living longer.
The “Social Relationships and Mortality in Older Adulthood” study involved nearly 3,000 volunteers ages 57 to 85, who were asked to list up to five of the people they felt the closest to, including spouses. They then were required to explain in detail the nature of those relationships. They reported having on average three close family members or friends and most of them were married, had happy lives and were in good physical health. The majority of the study participants reported not being very lonely.
James Iveniuk, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said he was surprised to find that the adults with more family members in their lives were less likely to die soon after retirement than those who listed more friends.
“Because you can choose your friends, you might, therefore, expect that relationships with friends would be more important for mortality, since you might be better able to customize your friend network to meet your specific needs,” Iveniuk noted, according to a report by The Washington Post.
However, he pointed out that such expectations are exactly the opposite of his findings. Even if it is hard to believe, the truth is that people who may help adults live longer are those who they cannot choose or those who were never able to choose them. The greatest benefit to longevity seems to come from them.
It is important to note that these findings only apply to a cross-section of modern-day America given that culture and societies have a strong influence on the definitions of kinds of relationships and who is considered “family,” as explained by Iveniuk and his study co-author L. Philip Schumm, a biostatistician from the University of Chicago.
As for the importance of marriage, this institution was found to benefit longevity greatly even in cases in which it does not have the highest quality. This means that the mere fact of being married to someone provides a sense of security.
The researchers concluded that the four factors more strongly linked to reduced mortality risk among older adults are marriage, a large network size, more consistent participation in social organizations and a stronger sense of closeness to one’s confidants. All of these factors have the same degree of importance. In contrast, feelings of loneliness, access to social support and time with confidants were found to matter the least when it comes to longevity.
Human beings clearly do not get along well with isolation
The paper supports the vast evidence from previous studies suggesting that people who lack supportive social relationships are less likely to be able to keep the doctor away.
“A large body of research points to the social nature of human beings, where isolation from social contact may lead to earlier death,” the study authors wrote in their paper, as reported by The Washington Post. “Simply being in contact with other people may therefore be a boon to longevity.”
Source: Washington Post