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The Role of Partnership Status on Late-Life Physical Function*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2014

Sean A. P. Clouston*
Program in Public Health and Department of Preventive Medicine, Stony Brook University
Andrea Lawlor
Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, McGill University, and Institute for Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley
Ashton M. Verdery
Department of Sociology and Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Correspondence and requests for offprints should be sent to /La correspondance et les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adressées à : Sean Clouston, Ph.D. Program in Public Health Health Sciences Center 3-071 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY 11794-8338, U.S.A. (


This study examined the socioeconomic pathways linking partnership status to physical functioning, assessed using objective measures of late life physical functioning, including peak flow and grip strength. Using Wave 4 of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), we ran multilevel models to examine the relationship between partnership status and physical function in late life, adjusting for social-network characteristics, socioeconomic factors, and health behaviours. We found a robust relationship between partnership status and physical function. Incorporating social-network characteristics, socioeconomic factors, and health behaviours showed independent robust relationships with physical function. Co-variates attenuated the impact of cohabitation, separation, and widowhood on physical function; robust effects were found for singlehood and divorce. Sex-segregated analyses suggest that associations between cohabitation, singlehood, divorce, and widowhood were larger for men than for women. Results suggest that social ties are important to improved physical function.


Cette étude a examiné les voies socio-économiques reliant le statut de partenariat pour le fonctionnement physique en fin de vie, mesuré à l'aide des moyens objectifs, y compris le débit de pointe et la force de préhension. Utilisant la vague 4 de l’enquête SHARE sur la santé, le vieillissement et la retraite en Europe, nous avons couru des modèles multi-niveaux pour examiner la relation entre le statut de partenariat et la fonctionnement physique en fin de vie, en ajustant les caractéristiques des réseaux sociaux, les facteurs socio-économiques et les comportements sanitaires. Nous avons trouvé une relation forte entre le statut de partenariat et le fonctionnement physique. L'incorporation des caractéristiques des réseaux sociaux, des facteurs socio-économiques et des comportements de santé ont montré de relations indépendantes et solides avec le fonctionnement physique. La covariance a atténué l'impact de la cohabitation, la séparation, le veuvage sur la fonction physique; des effets robustes ont été trouvés pour le célibat et le divorce. Analyses séparées par sexe suggèrent que les associations entre la cohabitation, le célibat, le divorce et le veuvage sont plus pour les hommes que pour les femmes. Les résultats indiquent que les liens sociaux sont importants pour l'amélioration du fonctionnement physique.

Copyright © Canadian Association on Gerontology 2014 

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Sean Clouston was supported by funding from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (P01 AG043362). Andrea Lawlor is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Ashton Verdery would like to thank the Duke Network Analysis Center and the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for support during the time this study was conducted. This study used data from SHARE Wave 4 release 1.1.1, as of March 28, 2013. The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the European Commission through the 5th Framework Programme (project QLK6-CT-2001-00360 in the thematic programme Quality of Life), through the 6th Framework Programme (projects SHARE-I3, RII-CT-2006-062193, COMPARE, CIT5- CT-2005-028857, and SHARELIFE, CIT4-CT-2006-028812) and through the 7th Framework Programme (SHARE-PREP, No. 211909, SHARE-LEAP, No. 227822, and SHARE M4, No. 261982). Additional funding from the U.S. National Institute on Aging (U01 AG09740-13S2, P01 AG005842, P01 AG08291, P30 AG12815, R21 AG025169, Y1-AG-4553-01, IAG BSR06-11, and OGHA 04-064) and the German Ministry of Education and Research as well as from various national sources is gratefully acknowledged (see for a full list of funding institutions). The funders played no role in the completion of this study.


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