“We found that older individuals who had more family in their network, as well as older people who were closer with their family were less likely to die,” said James Iveniuk, the lead author of the study.
“No such associations were observed for number of or closeness to friends,” Iveniuk, who is also a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, added.
The study was presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) organised from August 20-23, in Seattle, Washington.
The researchers found that older adults who reported feeling “extremely close” on average to the non-spousal family members had about a six per cent risk of mortality within the next five years, compared to approximately a 14 per cent risk of mortality among those who reported feeling “not very close” to the family members.
Furthermore, the study found that respondents who listed more non-spousal family members in their network — irrespective of closeness — had lower odds of death compared to those who listed fewer family members.
“Regardless of the emotional content of a connection, simply having a social relationship with another person may have benefits for longevity,” Iveniuk said.
Iveniuk said he was surprised that feeling closer to one’s family members and having more relatives as confidants decreased the risk of death for older adults but that the same was not true of relationships with friends.
Iveniuk noted his findings underscore the substantial importance of familial relationships for longevity.