Social Relationships and Health

Adults who are socially active live longer and are healthier than their more isolated peers.

Social relationships are vital to maintaining good health. Conversely, social isolation creates health risks. Studies have shown that for patients with coronary artery disease, social isolation creates added risk of death. Recent evidence suggests a link between poor social ties and severe conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and cancer.

This essay from a Journal of Health and Social Behavior supplement reviews major findings in the study of social relationships and health. The authors discuss the behavioral, psychosocial and physiological aspects of health and their importance for social relationships; and explain how different types of social relationships (i.e., marriage, parenthood) encourage healthy behavior. Mindful that unstable relationships can be harmful, the authors consider “The Dark Side of Social Relationships” and discuss the cumulative effect of social experience—citing health studies conducted at different stages of development (i.e., parents and children; adolescents and peers). Other topics include: social relationships and mental health, the costs and benefits of social relationships, public policy, and possibilities for future research.

Key Findings:

  • The effects of social experiences accumulate through life, so that health risks increase as someone has continual social difficulties.
  • Policy-makers can use the educational system to reduce social isolation in America.
  • Improving social ties is a cost-effective preventive medicine strategy.

Sociologists have established a connection between social relationships—their quantity and quality—and health. This essay reviews evidence supporting that connection and suggests how policy-makers can promote and protect the strength of social ties in America.