Social isolation and health: structural sources, psychosocial resources, and social contexts
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Humans are social beings so much that the feelings of not being connected to others may increase physical and mental problems. Despite ample research documenting the health risks of social isolation, we still do not understand the mechanisms through which social isolation affects health. Existing research lacks an overarching framework that would explore a broader context of social isolation and health including socioeconomic, relational, and psychosocial characteristics. This is a goal of the present dissertation. This study builds on the large body of research that has investigated the relationship between social isolation and health by considering two aspects of social isolation defined as no confidant and loneliness. In order to address the problem identified above, this study proposes a conceptual framework designed to study social isolation in relation to other important factors that are presumed to interact with social isolation. The proposed framework includes the following propositions: (a) a lower level of socioeconomic status leads to social isolation; (b) a lower level of social ties leads to social isolation (c) social isolation is associated with a lower level of psychosocial resources (i.e., perceived support, personal mastery, and self-esteem), net of SES and social ties; (d) adverse effects of social isolation on health is partly mediated by psychosocial resources; (e) negative impact of chronic stressor (i.e., economic hardship) is greater among those who are socially isolated; (f) positive impact of psychosocial resources on health is weaker among those who are socially isolated. Analyses of a nationally representative longitudinal sample from the U.S. generally support these arguments. This study found that social isolation is a product of both socioeconomic status and social integration: Higher education, being employed, and having more income all contributes to the lower likelihood of social isolation; community ties, social network ties, and intimate ties are associated with lower chance of reporting social isolation. This study also found that social isolation predicts lower level of each of perceived support, personal mastery, and self-esteem, net of SES and social ties, and these associations in turn mediate adverse effects of social isolation on health. Furthermore, this study found that social isolation moderates the association between chronic stressor and health. Findings showed that social isolation amplifies adverse health effects of economic hardship and attenuates protective effects of psychosocial resources. The implication of main findings, the study limitations, and the recommendation for future research are also discussed.