Racial/ethnic differences in living arrangements, distant relations, and later-life mental health



This research investigates associations between living arrangements and older adults’ depressive symptoms and whether these associations are moderated by extended family, friends, and neighborhoods for White, Black, and Hispanic older adults.


The drastic marriage and kinship decline since the 1970s has raised growing concerns about aging alone in both the public and scholarship. This paper adopts critical race theory to examine the social convoy model which argues that distant networks will fill in to protect individuals from stressors in the absence of proximal relations.


This paper applies multilevel mixed-effects linear models to 2006–2018 waves of Health and Retirement Study (N = 44,304 obs., with 32,599 White, 7028 Black, and 4677 Hispanics).


While married couples living alone have the best mental health among Whites, co-residing with both spouses/partners and children (the intergenerational coresidence) is associated with the lowest depressive symptoms for Black and Hispanic older adults. Moreover, strong social support from extended family and friends and a high level of neighborhood social cohesion can significantly mitigate increased depressive symptoms associated with living alone or with others only (people other than spouses/partners and children) for Whites, but not for Blacks and Hispanics.


This research challenges the paradigm that considers “married couples living alone” as a normalized family structure. It also emphasizes the “double plight” of Black and Hispanic older adults, who show both a disproportionate decline in family ties and a lack of supportive distant relations serving as buffer zones in the absence of spouses and children.

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