Benefits of having friends in older ages: differential effects of informal social activities on well-being in middle-aged and older adults

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2014 May;69(3):366-75. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbt029. Epub 2013 May 16.


Objectives: It has been considered a fact that informal social activities promote well-being in old age, irrespective of whether they are performed with friends or family members. Fundamental differences in the relationship quality between family members (obligatory) and friends (voluntary), however, suggest differential effects on well-being. Further, age-related changes in networks suggest age-differential effects of social activities on well-being, as older adults cease emotionally detrimental relationships.

Method: Longitudinal representative national survey study with middle-aged (n = 2,830) and older adults (n = 2,032). Age-differential effects of activities with family members and friends on changes in life satisfaction, positive affect (PA), and negative affect (NA) were examined in latent change score models.

Results: In the middle-aged group, activities with friends and families increased PA and life satisfaction and were unrelated to NA. In the older age group, family activities increased both PA and NA and were unrelated to changes in life satisfaction, but activities with friends increased PA and life satisfaction and decreased NA.

Discussion: Social activities differentially affect different facets of well-being. These associations change with age. In older adults, the effects of social activities with friends may become more important and may act as a buffer against negative effects of aging.

Keywords: Adult development; Social integration; Subjective well-being..

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Family Relations
  • Female
  • Friends / psychology*
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Human Development / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Social Support*