Published Papers - Abstract 445

McLaughlin D, Adams J, Vagenas D & Dobson A. Factors which enhance or inhibit social support: A mixed methods analysis of social networks in older women. Ageing and Society, 2011; 31: 18-33

Evidence suggests that people with strong social support have lower mortality and morbidity and better self-rated health in later life, but few studies have used longitudinal data to examine the factors that inhibit or enhance social support. This study used both quantitative data and qualitative texts to explore older women’s social networks. The mixed-methods design drew participants from the 1921–26 cohort of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH). Regression modelling for repeated measures was used to analyse the longitudinal data. The qualitative data was content analysed by the themes identified from the quantitative analyses. The quantitative analyses revealed that larger social networks associated with better mental health, widowhood, illness or death of a family member, and no mobility problems. Women who were not Australian-born, had sight problems or who had moved house were more likely to have smaller social networks. The qualitative data provided insight into the lived experiences of this group of women. The use of a mixed methodology enabled the longitudinal quantitative results to be enriched by the women’s own words. The findings highlight the importance to older women of being able to access their social network members to gain the psychological and emotional benefits.