The sociability space: integrating social networks in space for a better understanding of healthy aging.

Giovanna Fancello, Basile Chaix, Cédric Sueur, Frank J. van Lenthe, Julie Vallée


Although health literature recognizes the importance of both social and physical environments to which people are daily exposed for mental wellbeing, as well as the role of daily mobility and social integration, these facets of everyday life are rarely considered together. Here, we aim to explore places where elderly people exchange daily with the members of their social network (‘sociability space’) for a better understanding of their quality of life and ultimately their mental well-being. For that purpose, we will study the association between the structural and spatial aspects of social networks with healthy ageing, with a focus on mental health status. This question will be studied among older people in link with the opportunities they have (or not) to take an active part in society and to enjoy an independent and good quality of life (ie. healthy ageing). It also echoes the Capability Approach, which highlights that quality of life and health result from personal abilities to convert social and spatial opportunities into effective doings and beings. We use data provided by a survey among 200 old adults (aged 60 and over) residing in the Paris region. Conducted in the framework of the HANC (Healthy Aging and Networks in Cities) and MINDMAP (Promoting mental well-being and healthy aging in cities) projects, and using the VERITAS map-based questionnaire, this survey provides information on participant’s health status and socioeconomic profile, as well as on their residential neighbourhoods and regularly visited locations. A social network component included in VERITAS allows participants to describe each member of their social network (socio-demographic profile and their residence), to inquire the level of inter-knowledge of members of their social network and to specify places and activities performed together. Sociability spaces are first explored with a description of their intrinsic characteristics (shape, area size, number of sociability places, distance from home, etc.) and of their external characteristics reflecting the urban quality (location, proximity to public and private services, residential density, socioeconomic conditions, etc.). Secondly, we examine from bivariate and multivariate regressions whether these intrinsic and external spatial characteristics are statistically related to a) the structure of the social network (size of network; frequency of contacts, global connectivity, homogeneity, density, etc.), b) to participant’s socio-economic profile (age, sex, income, level of education, etc.) and c) to the characteristics of their residential neighbourhoods defined from objective or subjective attributes (location, services density and quality, walkability, and socioeconomic composition). Lastly, we conduct a clustering analysis to isolate some configurations of sociability spaces, social network, residential neighbourhoods and personal profile which are associated with mental health outcomes (depression and self-rated mental health). Among the variety of spatial and social configurations that will be identified, we will carefully examine which of those are likely to be causal antecedents or consequences of mental health problems.

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