Living arrangements and social networks of older adults (LSN)

Introduction
The research program has been developed on request of the Netherlands Program for Research on Aging (Nederlands Stimuleringsprogramma Ouderenonderzoek; NESTOR) steering committee. The aim of this committee, which was installed by the Ministry of Welfare, Health and Cultural Affairs and by the Ministry of Education and Science, was to develop a national plan for research on aging, and to supervise and guide the execution of this plan. The aim of NESTOR was to strengthen the position of aging research in the Netherlands by stressing the improvement of the scientific infrastructure and the stimulation of international collaboration. Living arrangements and social networks of older adults" was one of the topics selected by the NESTOR steering committee as part of their national plan for research on aging. Previous research carried out at three scientific institutes, namely, the Department of Sociology and Social Gerontology at the faculty of Social Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, the Department of Social Research Methodology at the faculty of Social Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) in The Hague, provided the expertise required for the topic.
A program management team was responsible for laying down and monitoring the research program as far as scientific, personnel, financial and managerial aspects are concerned. The members of the project management team were: Prof. dr. C.P.M. Knipscheer (chair and program director); Prof. dr. J. Gierveld; Prof. dr. T.G. van Tilburg; and Prof.dr. P.A. Dykstra. Other (senior) researchers were: Dr. M.I. Broese van Groenou; Dr. E.D. de Leeuw; Prof. dr. A.C. Liefbroer; and Dr. G.C.F. Thomése.

Objective
The objectives of the program were the following. First, it aims to provide insight into the determinants of living arrangements of older adults, their kin and non-kin networks. Second, it aims to provide insight into the outcomes of living arrangements of older adults, and their kin and non-kin networks in terms of the availability of the social support essential for daily functioning, for coping with problems associated with life events, and for maintaining well-being. The third objective is to use these insights to separate the assumptions essential to the constructing of models predicting future trends in living arrangements and networks from the assumptions which are not.

The perspective adopted in the research program is one which emphasizes the autonomy of older adults, i.e. their ability to manage on their own. However, contrary to many of the studies into the conditions underlying their ability to manage alone, which tend to emphasize individual characteristics, such as the level of cognitive performance or health status, this program centers on characteristics of the social matrix in which older adults are embedded. In other words, the focus is on the importance of the personal relationships for daily functioning, for coping with life events and for maintaining well-being. More specifically the focus is on living arrangements of older adults and their social networks.

The desire to move beyond an exclusive focus on individual characteristics is not the only reason for focusing on relationships of older persons. Another consideration is that it is particularly in personal relationships that the impact of broader changes in society is reflected. The economic, demographic and cultural changes of recent decades have led to changes in relationships available to people and/or in the conditions providing opportunities for social interaction. It is unclear what the implications are for the individual older adult. How do older persons deal with the changing conditions of personal relationships and how will they deal with these changes in the future? It should be pointed out that relationships of older adults are also subject to changes associated with the aging process itself. For this reason, the (possible) implications of changes in personal relationships which are associated with changes in society must be considered in relation with life course changes in personal relationships.
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Research questions
The first question is: what are the determinants of living arrangements of older adults, their kin and non-kin networks? Living arrangements refer to housing, household composition and residential environment. Housing relates to the situation of an older adult living in a private household or in an institution of some kind. Household composition concerns the matter of the older adult living alone, or sharing the household. If the latter is the case, data are gathered about the household members, whether they are a marital partner, a non-marital partner of the same or of the opposite sex, family members (e.g. adult children, elderly parents, siblings etc.) and/or non-family related individuals. The question of residential environment refers to the location such as close to adult children and/or other family members, or whether the person lives in a area with a relatively high or relatively low sub-population of older adults, and whether the person is a relative newcomer or a long term resident. It is likely that housing, household composition and residential environment lay down the restrictions and opportunities which an older person has for establishing and maintaining the relationships which decide their social networks. The proposed research program aims to provide insight into the manner in which this occurs.

The second question is: what are the outcomes of having a specific living arrangement, kin and non-kin network in terms of the support received, and consequently in terms of daily functioning, coping with life events and maintaining well-being? People who are surrounded by other people, who have others available to assist them now and then with practical services, to give positive feedback or to show their affective concern, generally experience a higher level of well-being than those who lack such ties with others. It is put forward that the support provided by social network members helps to protect older persons from experiencing negative outcomes, helps them in their efforts to improve their situation, and helps them respond to adverse events. The support is considered adequate if it meets older persons's needs for well-being and makes it possible for them to arrange their own lives. Several theoretical models can be used to examine the adequacy of support. One is the model of ecological congruence which emphasizes a lock-and-key fit between the demands for particular types of support and the supply of support. Another acknowledge that analyses of the adequacy of support should not only take into account the actual provision of support but also whether or not the support matches the expectation of the individual. Cognitive process approach stressing personal perceptions and evaluations, provide a fruitful framework for such analyses.

The third question is: how can insights into the determinants and outcomes of living arrangements of older adults, their kin and non-kin networks be applied in the construction of more realistic models of future trends in living arrangements and networks? The usefulness of future prognoses depends upon the validity of the assumptions upon which they are founded. Knowledge obtained through the proposed research program can be used in the construction of more realistic models, more realistic in the sense of a broader awareness of the validity of the assumptions upon which they are based. It is proposed that there are two ways in which this aim can be achieved. The first is through the analysis of trends in living arrangements, kin and non-kin networks. Knowledge about trends in living arrangements and networks can provide an indication of the extent to which predictions about future cohorts of older adults can be based upon characteristics of past and present cohorts. The second is through the analysis of inter-individual variability. More particularly, research into the conditions determining the relations between well-being on the one hand and living arrangements or network characteristics on the other is proposed. Such knowledge can provide insight into the question as to whether differences in living arrangements or in networks among older adults can be glossed over or should be taken into account.
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Societal relevance and policy implications
The program will contribute in many ways to a better understanding of an aging society and will promote reflections on the consequences of the changing structure and culture of the Dutch society, especially as far as it concerns living arrangements and social networks of older people. These reflections will direct policy development in the next decades. The relevance of this program can be located in three areas: description and insight into life course related determinants, challenging the negative image of older persons, and insight for the prediction of future changes.
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Acknowledgement
The research was supported by a program grant from the Netherlands Program for Research on Ageing (NESTOR), funded by the Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Sciences and the Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sports.
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Current status of the program (2001)
NESTOR-funding ended in 1996. Specific projects linked to the side-studies on networks (NWO grant 510-77-501; 1993-1998) and widowhood (NWO grant 510-77-603; 1994-1999) were completed in 2000 (PhD dissertation by Klein Ikkink) and 2001 (PhD dissertation by Van Baarsen), respectively. For some LASA-projects, the data collected within the framework of LSN served as baseline. Furthermore, the unique data collected within LSN provided and will provide great opportunities for studying the aged and aging. Recently a program on Diversity in Late Life was launched (NWO grant 410-12-016P; 2001-2005). This program includes five projects and studies early and middle life trajectories with retrospective data collected within LSN and late-life trajectories with longitudinal data collected within LSN and LASA.

Researchers
Other (senior) researchers were:
Dr. M.I. Broese van Groenou (MI.Broese at fsw.vu.nl)
Dr. E.D. de Leeuw (EdithL at xs4all.nl)
Prof. dr. A.C. Liefbroer (Liefbroer at nidi.nl)
Dr. G.C.F. Thomése (GCF.Thomese at fsw.vu.nl)

Updated: 12-03-2003
© Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Design by Theo van Tilburg
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Data collection
The aim of collecting data for the Main Study was twofold. First of all, the aim was to provide descriptive information about the living arrangements (since 1971, there was no census in the Netherlands) and social networks of older adults (the Main Study). A large-scale survey based on a representative sample was expected to provide such information. Secondly, the Main Study provided the information necessary to carry out the two subsidiary longitudinal studies. Respondents who experienced the transition to widowhood are followed longitudinally (Widowhood Adaptation Longitudinal Study; WALS). A second study is the Network Study. Identification of the respondents to be followed in the Network Study took place on the basis of data collected during the Main Study. Furthermore, during the Main Study, additional information has been collected on selected groups of respondents. Research questions to be addressed in specific projects motivate the selection of these groups.

The Main Study consisted of face-to-face interviews conducted in 1992 with 4,494 respondents. Respondents were interviewed in their homes and personal computer assistance was used in the data collection. This program used a stratified random sample of men and women born between 1903 and 1937, so that the respondents vary in age from 54 to 89. The mean age of the respondents is 72.8 (SD= 10.0). By including these cohorts in the sample, data are available about people who grew up and reached maturity before and during the Depression and during or after the Second World War. These differences are likely to be reflected in the history of the composition of their households (e.g. membership of three-generation households, co-residence with parents as newly-weds due to housing shortage) or in the timing and the likelihood of marriage and the birth of children. In addition, data are available on older adults who, at the time of the interview, find themselves in different age-related circumstances. A large proportion of the youngest respondents face the transition from employment to retirement, and from having a family with children to having an "empty nest". A considerable number of the oldest respondents may be facing the transition from health and independent functioning to physical ailments and restricted independent functioning. They may be facing possible admission into a home for older persons. Furthermore, there is, with increasing age, an increasing chance of widowhood (with its associated changes in the composition of the household, and changes in the social network) and the increasing chance of death of social network members.  The oldest individuals, and in particular the oldest men, were over-represented in the sample. By not introducing additional stratification criteria, it remains possible to generalize the findings in a relatively simple way to the population of the selected regions and municipalities. The sample was randomly taken from the registers of eleven municipalities in the east (one city, Zwolle, and four rural municipalities, Genemuiden, Zwartsluis, Hasselt, and Ommen), the south (one city, Oss, and two rural municipalities, Uden and Boekel) and the west (Amsterdam and two rural municipalities, Waterland and Wormerland). These three regions can be taken to represent differences in culture, religion, urbanization and aging in the Netherlands.

Two municipalities (Amsterdam and Boekel) forced us to adopt a two-step sampling procedure. In the first step, the municipalities asked the people in the sample permission to pass on their names and addresses to the researchers. In the second step, the researchers sent the remaining people in the sample who lived in the two municipalities and all the people in the sample who lived in the other municipalities (N= 7,574) a letter introducing the study and the interviewers approached the prospective respondents. People who were deceased (5%), too ill to be interviewed (7%; for some of them proxies were interviewed), or did not speak Dutch (<1%) were classified as ineligible. Many (28%) refused, and a small proportion (<1%) was not contacted. On the basis of the response results in step 2, the non-response in step 1 was divided into eligible (i.e. refusals or not contacted) and ineligible. It was estimated that in total 2,785 people in the sample refused or could not be contacted and 1,416 were ineligible. The response was 62%, computed as the proportion of the number of face-to-face interviews conducted from the number of eligible sample members.
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Data in the Main Study
The face-to-face questionnaire consisted of 36 sections. It was necessary to split the interview into sections to allow for the interim storage of data and to facilitate proper routing through the interview. In this way it was possible to interrupt the interview and to skip certain sections of the interview on the basis of the data gathered within previous sections or of the choices made by the management. Most questions asked in the questionnaire can be subsumed under one of the following topics:
Basic demographics. Four sections of the questionnaire gathered basic demographic data of the respondent and of his/her partner/spouse, if present. Among these were education, employment status, religious affiliation, marital and partner status, characteristics of the current household and housing characteristics.
Family background. Questions were asked about the parents and the parental home.
Family composition. In three sections, questions were asked about the number of siblings, children and grandchildren. The first name of these family members was asked and used to determine characteristics of these family members (e.g. age) and of the relationship with them (e.g. frequency of contact).
Health. Subjective health, handicaps and capacities to perform activities of daily living were investigated for the respondent and for the partner/spouse.
Social participation and personal network. Participation in educational courses, memberships of and activities in organizations, volunteer work and other aspects of social participation. Furthermore, the respondent was asked to nominate his or her network members; they were to be nominated by first name and first letter of the last name only. Characteristics of the network members (e.g. age and employment status) and characteristics of the relationships (e.g. frequency of contact and supportive exchanges) were collected.
Life history. Questions were asked about previous cohabitations of the older adults with their children and the marriages and consensual unions of the children. Previous relationships with a partner/spouse were investigated. Data on the history of household composition, of employment and of moves were collected.
Well-being, skills and attitudes. Items on loneliness, well-being, exchange orientation, social skills, self-evaluation, need for affiliation and attitudes toward help by family.
Evaluation of the interview. The interview was closed by asking how the respondent had experienced the interview. After the interview, when the interviewer was at his home, the interviewer reported about the manner in which the interview had progressed and about the performance of the respondent.

The following table presents a survey of the data files, with the file name in the first column, the source of the data in the second column, a short description of the contents in the third column, the identification variable in the fourth column, the number of cases in the fifth column, and the questionnaire that the data are from in the sixth column.
The data are from the following sources: the respondent in the face-to-face interview (R), the proxy of the person in the sample (P), the interviewer (I), the municipality (M) and the system (S), such as the computer system, administrative data or computations on original data.
The most important identifier of the cases in the files is the variable RESPNR, which consists of five figures, the first two of which are referring to the number of the municipality from the variable APLACE in the files LSNa002 and LSNa008 (it was necessary to use more than one place identifier for the cases in several municipalities; e.g. respondent numbers starting with 11 through 14 are citizens of Amsterdam, with a value of 10 on variable APLACE). The last three figures of the variable RESPNR are sequence numbers without any meaning (respondents were randomly selected from the stock). Other identifiers are ADEMID for all the persons who are referred to by the respondent in the demographic section of the interview (the first five figures are the respondent number, followed by a unique random serial number), ANWMEM for the network members (the first five figures are the respondent number, followed by a unique number in the sequence in which the network members were referred to), ANWPAIR for pairs of network members (the first five figures are the respondent number, followed by a unique number given twice in the sequence in which the network members were referred to) and AITERNR for the number of the interviewer.
The following four questionnaires were used: a computer-programmed questionnaire for the face-to-face interview, answered by the respondent or by the interviewer (F), a written questionnaire, answered by the respondent before the face to face interview (W), a written questionnaire, answered by the interviewer at the time of the training (I), and a questionnaire for the phone interview, answered by the proxy of the person in the sample (P).


File

Source

Data about

ID variable

N

Quest.

LSNa001

S

availability of data (partial non-response)

respnr

4,494

 

LSNa002

S,M

realization of sample (response and non-response), sex, date of birth, marital status, postal-code

respnr

13,438

 

LSNa003

S,I

sex, age, education, experience, subjective data of the interviewer

aiternr

88

I

LSNa203

S

scales subjective characteristics of the interviewer

aiternr

85

 

LSNa004

I

phone number known when contacted

respnr

7,395

F

LSNa005

I

type of residence

respnr

7,496

F

LSNa006

I

discussion about refusal

respnr*

2,548

F

LSNa007

I

discussion about cooperation

respnr*

4,763

F

LSNa008

S,I,M

sex, date of birth, age, date and duration of interview, municipality, financial status

respnr

4,494

F

LSNa009

S

weights (for generalization to population)

respnr

4,146

 

LSNa010

R

basic demographics (incl. marital and partner status)

respnr

4,494

F

LSNa011

R

basic demographics partner

respnr

2,759

F

LSNa012

R

characteristics occupation respondent and partner

respnr

4,494

F

LSNa013

I

choice short version interview

respnr

4,491

F

LSNa014

R

mental state

respnr

183

F

LSNa015

R

characteristics household members

ademid

178

F

LSNa215

R

living arrangement

respnr

4,488

F

LSNa016

R

characteristics residency

respnr

4,445

F

LSNa216

S

feel safe in neighborhood

respnr

4,083

 

LSNa017

R

characteristics residency institutionalized

respnr

249

F

LSNa018

R

characteristics residency independently living

respnr

3,894

F

LSNa019

R

education and religion parents

respnr

4,142

F

LSNa020

R

parental background

respnr

4,142

F

LSNa021

R

characteristics siblings

ademid

11,486

F

LSNa221

R,S

# siblings

respnr

4,139

F

LSNa022

R

characteristics children

ademid

12,501

F

LSNa222

R,S

# children

respnr

4,482

F

LSNa023

R

characteristics grandchildren

ademid

6,237

F

LSNa223

R

# (great) grandchildren

respnr

4,137

 

LSNa030

R

subjective health, visus, hearing, ADL, IADL

respnr

4,477

F

LSNa230

S

scales visus, ADL, IADL

respnr

4,477

 

LSNa031

R

ADL of partner

respnr

2,495

F

LSNa231

S

scale ADL of partner

respnr

2,492

 

LSNa032

R

social participation

respnr

4,125

F

LSNa232

S

scale scores social participation

respnr

4,125

 

LSNa047

R

the personal network: sex network member, type relationship and frequency contact, match network members and family members, network member and relationship characteristics, support exchanged

anwmem 
ademid
54,501

F

LSNa247

R

the personal network: network size, sum of support within relationships other than with partner/spouse

respnr

4,059

 

LSNa055

R

cooperation network-study

respnr

1,547

F

LSNa056

R

contact between network members

anwpair

32,238

F

LSNa256

S

density contact

respnr

699

 

LSNa063

R

partner history

respnr*

4,343

F

LSNa263

S

# marriages/cohabitations, partner history

respnr

4,084

 

LSNa065

R

household history

respnr* ademid
27,499

F

LSNa265

R

quality household history data

respnr

4,092

 

LSNa067

R

employment history

respnr*

2,877

F

LSNa267

R,S

employment history, income

respnr

4,082

 

LSNa069

R

residential history

respnr*

1,688

F

LSNa269

R

residential history

respnr

831

F

LSNa070

R,S

places of residence

respnr*

21,083

F

LSNa073

R

loneliness items

respnr

4,063

F

LSNa273

S

loneliness scale

respnr

4,045

 

LSNa074

R

well-being items

respnr

4,383

F

LSNa274

S

well-being scale

respnr

4,350

 

LSNa075

R

items exchange and communal orientation

respnr

3,135

F

LSNa275

S

scale exchange orientation

respnr

3,105

 

LSNa076

R

social skills items

respnr

698

F

LSNa276

S

social skills scale

respnr

678

 

LSNa077

R

self-evaluation items

respnr

3,853

F/W

LSNa277

S

self-evaluation scale

respnr

3,779

 

LSNa078

R

need for affiliation items

respnr

1,568

F

LSNa278

S

need for affiliation scale

respnr

1,559

 

LSNa079

R

attitudes family help items

respnr

2,566

F

LSNa279

S

attitudes family help scale

respnr

2,482

 

LSNa080

R

evaluation interview by the respondent

respnr

4,396

F

LSNa081

I

behavior and characteristics of the respondent

respnr

4,488

F

LSNa091

P

basic demographics

respnr

225

P

LSNa089

S

neighborhood characteristics

respnr

4,494

LSNa092

R

loneliness (UCLA)

respnr

655

W

LSNa292

S

scale loneliness (UCLA)

respnr

604

 

LSNa093

S

date, start and duration of parts of interview

respnr*

141,626

F

LSNa094

S

evaluation quality interviewer by supervisors

aiternr*

405

 

LSNa095

S

geographic and financial data based on postal code

respnr

13,438

 

LSNa097

S

duration of questions and items

respnr*

338,133

 

LSNa098

S

population municipalities and sample (proportion)

aplace*

77

 

* Multiple records for one respondent, interviewer or municipality may exist.

Updated: 12-03-2003
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Collaboration in data collection with other research programs
In the framework of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA), the respondents of the NESTOR-LSN survey born after 1908 are being followed to observe changes in their physical, emotional, cognitive and social functioning. At the Dipartimento di Statistica e Matematica Applicata all'Economia, Universitá degli Studi di Pisa, Italia, data were collected on living arrangements and social networks of older adults living in North-Western Tuscany, Italy, in collaboration with the NESTOR-LSN program. Links between the data of the NESTOR-LSN Main Study on the one hand, and the LASA data and the data of Tuscans on the other hand, are available.
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Availability of data
Data are available from the Steinmetz Archive (main study P1296, network study P1297) or on request.
A description of the data is available in: van Tilburg, T.G., Dykstra, P.A., Liefbroer, A.C., & Broese van Groenou, M.I. (1995). Sourcebook of living arrangements and social networks of older adults in the Netherlands: Questionnaire and data documentation of the NESTOR-program, main study 1992 and network study 1992-1995. Dept. of Sociology and Social Gerontology, Dept. of Social Research Methodology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, The Hague.
A copy can be obtained from TG.van.Tilburg at fsw.vu.nl, a PDF-version is also available.
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Overview of LSN data collections

 

Main Study 
(base line)

Wave 1

Wave 2

Wave 3

---------------------

--------------------

----------------------

---------------

Subject

living arrangements and social networks

(changes in) support
exchanges between network members

see wave 1

see wave 1

Started

January 1992

April 1992

April 1993

June 1994

Completed

December 1992

May 1993

March 1994

March 1995

Sample

birth cohorts 
1903-1937 (*2)

mainly younger

see wave 1

see wave 1

Questionnaire

face-to-face, written

personalized mail

see wave 1

see wave 1

N respondents (*3)

4,494

580

461

396

M age respondents

72.8

69.0

69.8

70.1

Age range

54.1-89.4

54.7-89.6

55.7-90.5

56.7-91.5

N network members (*4)

2,602

1,985

1,532

M age network members

52.0

53.0

53.9

Notes
1    The respondents in the LSN Network Study are a subsample of the older adults interviewed in 1992 and a selection of the network members identified by these older adults in the interview.
2    The sample was stratified by year of birth and sex.
3    Anchors in the LSN Network Study.
4    Anchors and a selection of their network members are respondents in the LSN Network Study.

LSN Widowhood Adaptation Longitudinal Study (WALS)

 

Wave 1

Wave 2

Wave 3

Wave 4

Wave 5

 

-----------------------------------

-----------------

-----------------

-----------------

-----------------

Subject

adaptation to widowhood

see wave 1

see wave 1

see wave 1

see wave 1

Started

November 1992

May 1993

November 1993

May 1994

November 1994

Completed

March 1996

January 1997

July 1997

February 1998

August 1998

Sample

widowed

see wave 1

see wave 1

see wave 1

see wave 1

Questionnaire

face-to-face & paper and pencil

see wave 1

see wave 1

see wave 1

see wave 1

N respondents

143

128

121

117

114

M age respondents

75.4

75.2

75.5

75.7

76.1

Age range

57.0-91.4

57.5-91.9

58.0-92.4

58.7-92.9

59.2-93.4

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