Prevailing research has suggested that social relationships get better with age, but this evidence has been largely based on studies with lengthy reporting intervals. Using an ecological momentary assessment approach, the present study examined age differences in several characteristics of social interactions as reported in near-real time: the frequency, quality, and partner type. Participants (N = 173) ages 20-79 years reported their social interactions at 5 random times throughout the day for 1 week. Results revealed that age was associated with higher frequency of interacting with family and lower frequency of interacting with peripheral partners. These age effects, however, became nonsignificant after accounting for contextual factors such as race, gender, education, employment status, family structure, and living arrangement. In contrast, a curvilinear relationship best characterized age differences in both positive and negative ratings of daily social interaction quality, with middle-aged adults reporting the lowest positive ratings and older adults reporting the lowest negative ratings among all ages. Contextual factors did not account for these patterns of age differences in interaction quality. Furthermore, the intraindividual variability of interaction frequency with peripheral partners, partner diversity, and interaction quality (positivity and negativity) was lower among older adults than among younger adults. Findings from the present study portray a nuanced picture of social interactions in daily life and advance the understanding of social interactions across the life span.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Geriatrics and Gerontology