Gendered trajectories of support from close relationships from middle to late life

Jing Liao, Anne McMunn, Shannon T. Mejía, Eric J. Brunner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates gender differences in trajectories of support from close relationships among adults in the transition from middle to old age, taking into account stability and change in the identity of the closest persons. Multi-level modelling was used to estimate gendered age-trajectories in three dimensions of support: emotional support, practical support and negative encounters, which were repeatedly measured over ten years amongst 6,718 Whitehall II participants. Men were more likely than women to nominate their partner as their closest person throughout follow-up; whereas women drew support from a wider range of sources. Gender differences were only evident in age-related trajectories of emotional support, and were contingent on stability and change in the closest relationships. Men reported increased emotional support from closest relationships with age, except for those who transitioned out of a partnership. For women, emotional support was stable among those whose closest person remained consistent, but decreased among those who changed their closest person. Further, emotional support increased with age for all married men, which was only the case for married women who nominated their partner as their closest person. Our analysis highlights gender-specific trajectories of perceived support from adults' closest relationships in late life, and indicate more pronounced socio-emotional selectivity in older men than women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)746-765
Number of pages20
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • close relationship trajectory
  • gender
  • longitudinal study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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