Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Household Disorder, Network Ties, and Social Support in Later Life

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Household Disorder, Network Ties, and Social Support in Later Life

Article excerpt

There's no place like home. Most people spend most of their time at home, making it a key context for daily life. The household provides the backdropforsomeofthemostlong-standingand meaningful relationships in individuals' lives, and it sets the stage for the enactment of key social roles such as spouse, parent, and child. The household context can also be a busy hub for social interaction, through which individuals cultivate and maintain network ties, pool resources, exchange support, and exercise informal control. Finally, the household context is a critical foundation for social structure. Families are formed and children are socialized in the household, the labor force is reproduced, material goods are consumed, and the division of household labor reifies gender power relations (see, e.g., Becker, 1981; Hochschild, 1989).

Substantial bodies of research have examined these household-centric social processes, but most previous work lifts these phenomena from the space in which they occur. The consideration of physical features of housing is typically limited to studies of housing inequality. Housing studies show that socioeconomic resources, housing-related discrimination, and residential segregation contribute to disparities in homeownership and household crowding (Flippen, 2001; E. Rosenbaum, 1996) and exposure to housing-based hazards and toxins, which may ultimately affect economic attainment, wealth, and health (Conley, 2001; Krieger & Higgins, 2002). But characteristics of housing units may also shape-and be shaped by-the social relationships and interactions that take root there.

I therefore advance a sociophysical conceptualization of the household context, which explores how a particular set of physical features of the household environment are interrelated with social networks and access to support among older adults. Research on neighborhood context suggests that neighborhood effects on health and well-being are particularly strong in older age groups, in part because older adults have greater exposure and vulnerability to their residential environments (Robert & Li, 2001). For the growing proportion of community-residing older adults, the physically more proximate environment of the household can be a critical factor for coping with disablement, maintaining community residence, participating in social activities, and promoting overall health and well-being (Glass & Balfour, 2003; Lawton & Nahemow, 1973). However, older adults' long-term residences tend to be older and less well equipped than those of younger and middle-aged adults (Rowles, Oswald, & Hunter, 2004), and declines in health and function that accompany aging can diminish the ability to address household-based hazards.

In this study I examined the presence of a particular set of physical and ambient household conditions in the dwellings of older adults, including general household disrepair, clutter, lack of cleanliness, odor, and noise. I refer to this set of conditions as household disorder. Building from social disorganization theory and previous research on social connectedness and support in later life, I developed hypotheses about how household disorder may reflect and affect the availability of network-based resources. I tested these hypotheses using data from Waves 1 and 2 of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a population-based study of community-residing older adults. I found evidence consistent with my theory in that older adults who have more social support have less household disorder. More important, I found that persons who have more disordered households subsequently have more kin-centered social networks and more strained relationships with family members. I conclude the article by discussing the relevance of these findings for a sociophysical conceptualization of the household and for policy-related efforts aimed at addressing health disparities and promoting healthy aging. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.