Do local social hierarchies matter for mental health? A study of neighborhood social status and depressive symptoms in older adults

Jessica A. Kelley-Moore, Kathleen A. Cagney, Kimberly A. Skarupski, Susan A. Everson-Rose, Carlos F. Mendes De Leon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objectives. Despite a well-established association between relative social position and health, stratification at smaller levels of social organization has received scant attention. Neighborhood is a localized context that has increasing relevance for adults as they age, thus one's relative position within this type of mesolevel group may have an effect on mental health, independent of absolute level of social and economic resources. We examine the relationship between an older adult's relative rank within their neighborhoods on two criteria and depressive symptoms. Method. Using data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project, neighborhood relative social position was ascertained for two social domains: income and social reputation (number of neighbors one knows well enough to visit). Using multilevel models, we estimated the effect of relative position within the neighborhood on depressive symptoms, net of absolute level for each domain and average neighborhood level. Results. Higher neighborhood relative rankings on both income and visiting neighbors were associated with fewer depressive symptoms. Although both were modest in effect, the gradient in depressive symptoms was three times steeper for the relative rank of visiting neighbors than for income. Men had steeper gradients than women in both domains, but no race differences were observed. Discussion. These findings suggest that an older adult's relative position in a local social hierarchy is associated with his/her mental health, net of absolute position.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-377
Number of pages9
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America. All rights reserved.


  • Depressive symptoms
  • Neighborhood
  • Older adults
  • Social hierarchies


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