OBJECTIVES: This study examined the main and interactive effects of age and race on the core characteristics of social networks including size, frequency of contact, geographical proximity, and composition of network. METHODS: Respondents were drawn from a stratified probability sample of people aged 20-93 in the greater Detroit metropolitan area. Approximately 30% of the sample were African American, and people aged 60 and older were over-sampled (n = 1.382). The authors used hierarchical regression analysis to estimate the influence of race and age on each component of social network, controlling for marital status, gender, and education. An interaction term (Race x Age) was added to explore the extent to which age moderates any detected race differences. RESULTS: Older age was associated with smaller, less frequently seen, and less proximal networks that had a higher proportion of kin. Blacks and Whites were similar with regard to proximity, but Blacks had smaller networks, more contact with network members, and more family members in their networks. Race differences in frequency of contact and proportion of kin were moderated by age, such that the differences in these variables diminished with increasing age. DISCUSSION: A systematic analysis of how age, race, and their interaction influence the characteristics of social networks furnishes important empirical knowledge about social networks among diverse groups. Such data may provide a context for how, and some explanation for why, support exchanges occur.
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