The social environment is one of the key factors determining the quality of life of older people. Research has consistently demonstrated a strong and positive relationship between social engagement in all forms but especially participation within kin and wider social networks, and a high quality of life. However, this recognition of the importance of this relationship is not new. In the early 1960s, the ‘activity theorists’ of aging posited that the key to a good old age was the maintenance of high levels of activity, including social participation and the maintenance of kin- and friendship-based relationships. This resonates with the ideas of Rowe and Kahn who suggest that a high level of social engagement is a key factor in achieving the individually and socially desired goal of ‘successful aging’. Furthermore, they argue that, with advanced age, the social context, in combination with the physical environment, exerts a more potent influence upon the experience of later life than either intrinsic genetic or biological factors. Whilst the prescriptive strictures of activity theory and successful aging remain the subject of debate, there seems little doubt that the social environment continues to exert both a powerful influence upon, and provides a context within which people experience old age, both individually and collectively.