Sunday, May 26, 2013

Only the Lonely

Social Isolation in America: An Artifact 

Anthony Paik & Kenneth Sanchagrin 
American Sociological Review, forthcoming 

Abstract: This article examines whether existing estimates of network size and social isolation, drawn from egocentric name generators across several representative samples, suffer from systematic biases linked to interviewers. Using several analytic approaches, we find that estimates of network size found in the 2004 and 2010 General Social Surveys (GSS), as well as other representative samples, were affected by significant interviewer effects. Across these surveys, we find a negative correlation between interviewer effects and mean network size. In the 2004 GSS, levels of social connectivity are strongly linked to interviewer-level variation and reflect the fact that some interviewers obtained highly improbable levels of social isolation. In the 2010 GSS, we observe larger interviewer effects in two versions of the questionnaire in which training and fatigue effects among interviewers were more likely. Results support the argument that many estimates of social connectivity are biased by interviewer effects. Some interviewers’ failure to elicit network data makes inferences, such as the argument that networks have become smaller, an artifact. Overall, this study highlights the importance of interviewer effects for network data collection and raises questions about other survey items with similar issues

Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women 
Andrew Steptoe et al. 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 9 April 2013, Pages 5797-5801 

Abstract: Both social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased mortality, but it is uncertain whether their effects are independent or whether loneliness represents the emotional pathway through which social isolation impairs health. We therefore assessed the extent to which the association between social isolation and mortality is mediated by loneliness. We assessed social isolation in terms of contact with family and friends and participation in civic organizations in 6,500 men and women aged 52 and older who took part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing in 2004–2005. A standard questionnaire measure of loneliness was administered also. We monitored all-cause mortality up to March 2012 (mean follow-up 7.25 y) and analyzed results using Cox proportional hazards regression. We found that mortality was higher among more socially isolated and more lonely participants. However, after adjusting statistically for demographic factors and baseline health, social isolation remained significantly associated with mortality (hazard ratio 1.26, 95% confidence interval, 1.08–1.48 for the top quintile of isolation), but loneliness did not (hazard ratio 0.92, 95% confidence interval, 0.78–1.09). The association of social isolation with mortality was unchanged when loneliness was included in the model. Both social isolation and loneliness were associated with increased mortality. However, the effect of loneliness was not independent of demographic characteristics or health problems and did not contribute to the risk associated with social isolation. Although both isolation and loneliness impair quality of life and well-being, efforts to reduce isolation are likely to be more relevant to mortality.

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