Age Moderates the Relationship Between Social Support and Psychosocial Problems

Authors


concerning this article should be addressed to Chris Segrin, Department of Communication, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721; email: segrin@u.arizona.edu.

Abstract

Social support is commonly assumed to protect people from the experience of psychological distress and to enhance well-being. However, past research shows that the effectiveness of social support from family members and friends varies over the life span. Both the stage model of life satisfaction and compensatory processes associated with aging provide accounts for why this may be the case. Accordingly, age was predicted to moderate the association between perceived functional and structural social support and the experience of depressive symptoms and loneliness. Age was also predicted to be associated with lower relationship standards that allow people to remain content regardless of whether available social support decreases. This moderational model was tested in a community-based sample of 325 adults ranging in age from 19 to 85 years. Results indicated that social support from family members and sheer contact with them, as well as social support from a spouse or partner, was most strongly and negatively related to the psychosocial problems in the younger participants. Age also moderated the association between relationship standards and loneliness. Consistent with the assumptions of the stage model of life satisfaction and previous research on compensatory processes associated with aging, older people do not appear to be as dependent as younger people on receiving social support from diverse sources in order to maintain a sense of well-being.

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