Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jeffrey A. Burr

Second Advisor

Jan E. Mutchler

Third Advisor

Richard Rogers


This study examines the association between social relationships (SRs) and mortality risk in later life by considering multidimensional aspects of SRs that link older adults with their family members and friends. In addition, this study investigates whether SRs buffer the association between chronic health stress and mortality by distinguish older individuals’ psychological perception of ongoing health problems from having these problems. Using the Health and Retirement Study (2006-2012), a series of Cox regression models were performed to examine the main and buffering effects of SRs on mortality risk in later life (n=4,434).

The main effects hypotheses are partially supported. First, stronger social ties reduce the risk of death. Second, the risk of death is increased when older adults receive help but decreased when they provide help, which demonstrates the significance of differentiating receipt and provision of support. Third, greater positive relationship quality increases older adults’ survival rates and greater negative relationship quality increases their risk of death, but both relationship qualities show no significant association with the survival after adjusting the effect of other covariates. Depending on relationship sources, the main effects results for late-life SRs on the risk of mortality vary: spousal relationships have a greater association with older individuals’ longevity, followed by those with children and friends.

Results partially support the buffering effects of SRs on the association between chronic health stress and mortality: greater levels of structural and functional relationship with family members reduce the risk of death when older individuals express more acceptance regarding their ongoing health problems.

This study confirms that each dimension of late-life SRs may work differently in terms of older individuals’ longevity. Across those three dimensions of SRs, structural and functional dimensions seem to be more relevant to the survival than quality dimension. In addition, the impact of relationship sources on older individuals’ survival seem to vary, which may help us identify risk groups by assessing late-life social relationship status. Last, this study sheds light on the importance of older individuals’ optimistic self-perception on their health problems when considering their longevity and benefits of strong social ties, support, and supportive relationship quality.


Free and open access to this Campus Access Dissertation is made available to the UMass Boston community by ScholarWorks at UMass Boston. Those not on campus and those without a UMass Boston campus username and password may gain access to this dissertation through resources like Proquest Dissertations & Theses Global or through Interlibrary Loan. If you have a UMass Boston campus username and password and would like to download this work from off-campus, click on the "Off-Campus UMass Boston Users" link above.