Personal relationships in late life: An introduction to the special issue
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Introduction: Improvements in living standards have brought unprecedented increases in longevity (Vaupel, 2010). In industrialized societies, most people can expect to celebrate their 80th birthday and many live beyond that. Moreover, epidemiological studies consistently show that personal relationships are among the best predictors of a long life. Large, controlled, prospective studies show that personal relationships reduce mortality independently of potentially confounding factors such as socioeconomic status, healthrisk behaviors, use of health services, and personality (Berkman, Glass, Brissette, & Seeman, 2000; Uchino, 2004). Despite their importance, research on late-life personal ties lags behind scholarship on early and middle adulthood. For example, of the 135 articles published during 2007, 2008, and 2009 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (disregarding the special issues), only one article had an older-adult sample. Eighty percent of the articles’ samples included people under the age of 60, 13% had samples which included the 60-plus group, and for 7% of the articles, age was either unknown or irrelevant (e.g., a unit of analysis other than the individual). Although personal relationship researchers have largely neglected late-life issues, ageing scholars have not placed older adults’ social worlds at center stage either. Health issues dominate the study of late-life quality (Walker & Mollenkopf, 2007). Concerns about the costs of an ageing population and how older adults can maintain selfreliance have clear policy relevance. Elusive issues such as older adults’ social embeddedness have received little attention. Clearly, the decision to devote a special issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships to personal relationships and older adults is a timely one.
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