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Measuring age as a structural concept

Social Networks
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0378-8733(91)90011-h


Abstract Network analysis provides a useful guide for collapsing ostensibly non-network data into analytical categories. I illustrate the point here using a familiar variable, years of age. Viewed structurally, age is a network pattern characteristic of being a specific number of years old. So viewed, years of age can be collapsed into socially distinct age categories where each category is a status in the social structure of age in a study population. For illustration, I describe the structure of relations defining age statuses in the American population. Each status is a unique pattern of relations with kin of specific ages, spouses of specific ages, and friends and coworkers of specific ages. In the mid 1980s, Americans were distributed across nine age statuses; I children (ages 1–18), II students (19–24), III young adults (25–30), IV twilight youth (31–36), V middle-age adults (37–46), VI older adults (47–52), VII senior adults (53–60), VIII retiring adults (61–66), and IX the elderly (over 66). The most severe changes in 1985 were happening to Americans in their late 40s—born at the beginning of World War II and in transition from age status V to status VI. When observed in 1985, they were in the process of replacing their parents with their children as important discussion partners and learning to live with much greater age heterogeneity in their other contacts, both in their marriages and their friends and coworkers beyond the family. Women were about to leave their prominent position in heterosexual society defined by age status V and men were about to enter a menopausal period characteristic of status VI.

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