- Adult development and social experiences are intertwined, which has implications for social policy, health, and well-being across the lifespan. This dissertation explores the benefit and risk that close social partners bring to adults' lives, and the efficacy and consequences of engaging social resources to maintain well-being in the face of variability and change in their proximal and distal social environments.
The first study, using a life course perspective and a macro analytic lens, traced experiences of financial loss in middle adulthood during the 2008 recession. Using the 2006 and 2010 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (n = 1,881; age range = 51 - 60 years), this study used conditional change models and path analysis to examine the extent to which increasing household complexity, giving help, receiving help, and relationship quality promoted or hindered the capacity to maintain a sense of control in the face of financial loss. Experiencing financial loss was directly associated with decreased control and giving help, and increased household complexity and receiving help. Experiences of financial loss indirectly decreased control through increased household complexity and decreased giving help. Although the experience of financial loss was distributed across differences in income and education, social resources patterned the engagement of interpersonal resources, which translated to engagement patterns that could compromise the sense of control. However, change in relationship quality, which did not systematically differ across experiences of financial loss, created pathways to support or hinder maintaining a sense of control while engaging interpersonal resources.
The second study, informed by lifespan developmental theory and developmental systems theory, applied a micro analytic lens to closely examine the within-person processes that connect daily interactions within the social convoy to emotional well-being in older adulthood. Using data from the Personal Understanding of Life and Social Experiences Project, this study linked older adults' (N = 99; age mean = 63.29, SD = 7.93) satisfaction with their five closest social partners to daily experiences of positive and negative affect across 100 days. Multivariate multilevel models suggest that older adults’ daily affect is more sensitive to the quality of daily interactions with closest compared to other social partners. The relative strength of positive and negative affect sensitivity also varied within levels of closeness. Negative affect was relatively more sensitive to interactions with the closest social partner, and positive affect was relatively more sensitive to interactions with other close social partners. This study also found emotional sensitivity to vary within individuals. Satisfying contact with other social partners dampened emotional sensitivity to the closest social partner on that day. These patterns differed across overall levels of contact satisfaction. Those with lower overall satisfaction had higher emotional sensitivity, and were less able to regulate the sensitivity of positive affect.
Together, the findings from these studies suggest that: (a) how individuals engage their interpersonal resources in response to loss can facilitate or hinder the maintenance of control and well-being; (b) the strategies that individuals engage vary by the presence or absence of socioeconomic and socioemotional resources; and (c) social partners contribute to both emotional reaction and recovery, but this sensitivity can be up and down regulated by reaching out to other close social partners. Relationships with others therefore contribute to well-being by supporting (or hindering) the regulation of self, actions, and emotions. Regulation through close interpersonal ties illustrates a process that links developmental and life course trajectories.