Tag Archives: Markus Schafer

The Social Networks of Seniors

The Faculty of Arts and Science News recently profiled Professor Markus Schafer in their series on “Rising Stars.” The piece discusses Professor Schafer’s doctoral work that studied the social networks of seniors in a residence complex, and his ongoing research into social networks, health and aging more generally.

Read the article here.

Professor Schafer’s research is supported by the Province of Ontario’s Early Researcher Award and by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

On the Benefits of Giving Advice

mschaferProfessor Markus Schafer and PhD student Laura Upeniek’s research highlights the benefits of giving advice for people in their 60s. This research,  funded by an Ontario Ministry  of Research and Innovation Early Researcher Award, was recently highlighted on the University of Toronto Faculty of Arts and Science News Page

Older adults may benefit from giving advice: Unfortunately, opportunities to counsel grow scarce with age

Research by sociologists at the University of Toronto suggests that feeling useful is a key part of a life well-lived and this is especially so for seniors who are living longer than ever before.

Their study shows that individuals in their 60s who give advice to a broad range of people including family members, friends, and neighbours tend to see their lives as especially meaningful, compared to those with fewer advice-giving opportunities. The research, which compared adults in their 20s through 70s, appears in the March issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.

“This association between giving advice and finding meaning in life is not evident in other age groups,” said Markus Schafer, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and lead author of the study.

Unfortunately, the later years  when people would most benefit from being a sage is also a time when they have fewer opportunities to dispense advice, and to less-diverse types of people.

“Just when giving advice seems to be most important, opportunities for doing so seem to wane”

“The findings suggest that the developmental demands of late midlife, particularly the desire to contribute to the welfare of others and the fear of feeling ‘stagnant’, are not well aligned with the social and demographic realities of this stage of many people’s lives,” he said. “Just when giving advice seems to be most important, opportunities for doing so seem to wane.”

The study, titled “The Age-Graded Nature of Advice: Distributional Patterns and Implications for Life Meaning,” relies on a representative sample of 2,583 U.S. adults.

Schafer and U of T PhD student Laura Upenieks, co-author of the study, found that 21 per cent of people in their 60s and 27 per cent of people 70 or older reported giving advice to no one in the previous year. By comparison, only about 10 per cent of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s said they gave no advice in the past year.

“We tend to think that the ideal mentor or advice-giver is someone who has a lot of life experience,” Schafer said. “However, compared to their younger counterparts, older adults occupy fewer social roles, are less socially active, and interact with a more restricted range of people.

“So, while the average 65-year-old may well have more wisdom than the average 30-year-old, the latter typically has more opportunity for actually dispensing advice.”

It matters to matter

Put another way, the study suggests that it matters to matter. Some scholars have argued that mattering supports the idea that it is important to feel that one is meaningful, consequential and can have influence on other people in various ways, including by providing advice. It is this feeling of mattering that seems to be most under threat during late-middle age when many people retire and enter the “empty nest” phase of life, according to Schafer.

Such research is particularly relevant given demographics: in 2015, for the first time, more Canadians were 65 years of age and older than were younger than 15 years of age, and the trend is only set to increase…

Full Article

Health and Social Networks among Older Adults

mschaferSocial networks have a powerful impact on well-being — an impact that only increases with age. Changes in health status in old age, however, can limit older adults’ ability to maintain a broad and supportive pool of social resources.

Professor Markus Schafer’s new research program, recently funded by the Province of Ontario’s Early Research Award program, seeks to understand how various aspects of older adults’ social networks shape their health and how different facets of physical and mental health shape different properties of their social networks. Though global in scope, the project also gives special attention to how social networks can help older adults in Toronto retain a high quality of life.

Professor Schafer came to the University of Toronto in 2011 and has used the time since then to establish himself as an expert in social networks, health and the life course. The Early Researcher Award provides Schafer with funding to support his team of graduate students as he and they seek to analyze the complicated ways in which social and physical contexts interact with both health and social connectedness.

Schafer and his students are tackling the question with a two-pronged strategy. First, they are conducting analyses on data from a number of excellent North American surveys that span many years and countries. These data will show them how networks and health interact with contexts over time in a wide variety of contexts.

To understand the processes in more local, fine-grained detail, the team will also select 9-12 neighbourhoods in the city of Toronto where they will find seniors and conduct interviews with them. These interviews will probe deeper into the experiences and personal understandings of health, social networks and contextual factors than can be done through a study of large-scale survey data.