Support and Strain in Social Relationships: Do They Matter for Health at Different Stages of the Life Course?

Patricia A. Thomas, University of Texas at Austin

This study integrates stress process theory and identity theory into a life course framework to examine how support and strain from particular relationship types influence health trajectories across life stages. Data come from the Americans’ Changing Lives survey, a nationally representative panel dataset (1986, 1989, 1994, and 2001/2002). Latent growth curve models are used to examine the impact of relationship-specific support and strain on physical and mental health trajectories for young adults, midlife adults, and older adults. Support from friends was particularly beneficial, and strain from mothers detrimental, for young adults. Relationships with children, mothers, and spouses significantly affected the mental health of adults in midlife. For older adults, support from a spouse/partner benefited mental health and strain from children negatively affected physical health. This research suggests that certain age groups may be more sensitive in their mental or physical health to support and strain from particular relationship types.

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Presented in Session 40: Unions and Health