Social control, health risk taking, and psychological distress among the elderly.

K. S. Rook, P. D. Thuras, M. A. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Most research on older adults' social networks has focused on the support-providing function of social relationships. Little gerontological research has addressed social control, or the role of social bonds in regulating deviant or risky behavior. Drawing on sociological theory, this study examined the hypothesis that social control discourages risky health practices while provoking psychological distress. Structured interviews conducted with 162 community-residing older adults assessed social control (direct attempts by other to influence participants' health practices and the existence of significant role obligations to others), health risk taking (medication misuse, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and the overall level of unsound health practices), psychological functioning (depression, loneliness, and self-esteem), and interpersonal satisfaction (satisfaction with friends and family members). Analyses revealed little support for the hypothesis. Social control was only weakly related to participants' health practices and, contrary to expectation, was generally related to less psychological distress and to greater interpersonal satisfaction. Implications for social control theory and for further research are addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-334
Number of pages8
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1990
Externally publishedYes


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