Social network research has become central to studies of health and aging. Its results may yield public health insights that are actionable and improve the quality of life of older adults. However, little is known about the social networks of older immigrant adults, whose social relationships often develop in the context of migration, compounded by cultural and linguistic barriers.
This report aims to describe the structure, composition, and emotional components of social networks in the Chinese aging population of the USA, and to explore ways in which their social networks may be critical to their health decision-making.
Our data come from the PINE study, a population-based epidemiological study of community-dwelling older Chinese American adults, aged 60 years and above, in the greater Chicago area. We conducted individual interviews in participants' homes from 2011 until 2013. Based on sociodemographic and socioeconomic characteristics, this study computed descriptive statistics and trend tests for the social network measures adapted from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project study.
The findings show that older Chinese adults have a relatively small social network in comparison with their counterparts from other ethnic and racial backgrounds. Only 29.6% of the participants could name 5 close network members, and 2.2% could name 0 members. Their network composition was more heavily kin oriented (95.0%). Relationships with network members differed according to the older adults' sociodemographic and socioeconomic characteristics. Subgroup variations included the likelihood of discussing health-related issues with network members.
This study highlights the dynamic nature of social networks in later-life Chinese immigrants. For healthcare practitioners, developing cost-effective strategies that can mobilize social network support remains a critical undertaking in health intervention. Longitudinal studies are needed to examine the causal impact of social networks on various domains of health.