Lifecourse Influences in Women’s Social Relationships at Midlife

Marks, Nadine F., and Kristy Ashleman
Working paper no. 2001-14


Social relationships are an important factor influencing health, but much existing research linking social relationships with health gives inadequate attention to differential quality of social relationships, potential gender differences in processes linking social relationships and health, and the multiplicity of factors that influence the trajectory of women’s social relationships across the lifecourse. This chapter reviews evidence documenting how the structure and quality of women’s social relationships with mothers, fathers, siblings, partners, other kin, and friends change from childhood to middle adulthood, and considers how biological, psychological, and social factors uniquely, cumulatively, and interactively influence the quantity and quality of women’s social relationships over time. The relative importance of early life course factors for helping to determine later life relationships and relationship quality is discussed. Lifecourse differences between women and men and differences among women of varying socioeconomic status are noted. The chapter concludes with suggestions for future research and implications for policy.