The Built Environment and Social and Emotional Support among Rural Older Adults: The Case for Social Infrastructure and Attention to Ethnoracial Differences

Danielle Rhubart, Jennifer Kowalkowski, Logan Wincott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Social and emotional support (SaES) is essential for older adult mental health and is shaped by individual-level factors and the built environment. However, much of the focus on the built environment, and specifically social infrastructure—the physical places that facilitate social interaction and social tie formation—relies heavily on urban settings or samples with limited diversity. Consequently, there is little understanding if social infrastructure matters for the SaES of older adults in rural America, and across race and ethnicity. Therefore, we use social cohesion as a conceptual lens and the community gerontology framework to determine whether availability of social infrastructure is associated with SaES among older adults in rural America and whether this relationship varies across race and ethnicity. Using data from 110,850 rural older adults from the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System and data from the National Neighborhood Data Archive, we show that among rural ethnoracial minority older adults, higher densities of social infrastructure are associated with higher SaES. This is not true for rural non-Hispanic White older adults. Results highlight the importance of accounting for both social infrastructure as part of the built environment and heterogeneity across race and ethnicity in studies that examine older adult mental and emotional health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-762
Number of pages32
JournalRural Sociology
Volume88
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

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