Wagner, M., Schütze, Y., & Lang, F. R. (1999). Social relationships in old age. In P. B. Baltes & K. U. Mayer (Eds.), The Berlin Aging Study: Aging from 70 to 100 (pp. 282-301). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The aim of this chapter is to
describe the number, nature, and functions of social relationships in old age.
The consequences of widowhood, childlessness, and institutionalization on the
social relationships and loneliness of elderly people are also examined. The
findings are based on the accounts of the Berlin Aging Study (BASE)
participants and reveal that it is incorrect to assume that the social
integration of older adults is marked by a lack of role in society, or that
social relationships remain unchanged in quality and quantity into very old
There is a high degree of childlessness among those aged 85 years and older, but this can primarily be interpreted as a cohort effect. Although the loss of relatives from one's own generation is a common occurrence in very old age, the experience of being a great-grandparent also gains in importance. No uniform age differences can be found where nonrelatives are concerned either; whereas the number of friends decreases with age, the proportion of old people who include other nonrelatives in their social network remains relatively constant. The social network of widows and widowers has a structure similar to that of married people. However, the childless have smaller networks than parents, and the institutionalized have smaller networks than those living in private households. Married people feel lonely less frequently, whereas the institutionalized and the childless do so more often. Those aged 85 and older do receive substantially more help than they give, but, remarkably, some very old people still support others.