Health and well-being are unequally distributed across socio-economic groups. Less is known about the mechanisms behind these patterns. This paper explores the mediating role of structural and functional characteristics of the social network in the SEP-health relationship.
Data are from the second wave of the Norwegian study on the life course, aging and generation study (NorLAG) and comprise 4534 men and 4690 women aged 40-81. Analysis apply multiple mediation models to evaluate the relative importance of each network characteristic, and multiple group analysis to examine differences between middle-aged and older men and women.
Findings indicate a clear socio-economical patterning of the social network for men and women. People with higher SEP have social networks that better protect against loneliness, which in turn lead to better health outcomes. The explained variance in health in older people by the social network and SEP is only half of the explained variance observed in middle-aged people, suggesting that other factors than SEP are more important for health when people age. The paper concludes that it is the function of the network, rather than the structure, that counts for health.