Despite the increasing evidence linking aspects of the social environment to a range of health outcomes, important questions remain concerning the precise mechanisms or pathways through which social circumstances exert their influence. Biological pathways are one important area of current research interest. Using data from the Social Environment and Biomarkers of Aging Study (SEBAS) in Taiwan, we examined relationships between social environment characteristics and an index of cumulative biological dysregulation ("allostatic load," AL) in near elderly (NE) (aged 54-70) and elderly Taiwanese (aged 71+). Longitudinal data on levels of social integration and extent of social support were used to predict cumulative AL at the final survey year. Linear regression analyses revealed that among the NE, presence of a spouse between 1996 and 2000 was associated with lower AL in 2000 among men, but not women. Among the elderly, ties with close friends and/or neighbors were found to be significantly related to lower AL for both men and women. Perceived qualities of these social relationships did not show consistent associations with AL. This relatively modest set of significant relationships stands in contrast to somewhat stronger patterns of findings from studies in Western societies. Cross-cultural differences between Western societies and an East Asian society such as Taiwan raise the intriguing possibility that contextual, normative influences on social experience affect the patterns of association between features of these social worlds and the physiological substrates of health.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Health(social science)
- History and Philosophy of Science
- Allostatic load
- Social relationships
- Social support