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Research On The Dimensions Of Older Adult Friendship, How Friends Influence The Lives Of Older Adults

Theorists generally conceptualize "friendship" as a voluntary relationship between equals. This definition of friendship is an abstract conceptualization rather than a description of reality. As Graham Allan observed, in Western society there are no formal rules about who should be friends, but people generally establish relationships with others who are similar to them in terms of race, gender, class, religion, education, and so forth. Although friendships are generally more voluntary than relationships with family and neighbors, this tendency for people to be similar to their friends suggests that there are constraints on friendship choice that are not obvious to the participants. If no hidden rules about what types of friendships are appropriate or desirable existed, friendship patterns would exhibit more variation. Similarly, the statement that friendships are egalitarian is a theoretical rather than an empirical observation.

Older adults define friendship differently than theorists do. Adams, Blieszner, and De Vries found that older adults tend to define friendships in terms of the concrete behaviors involved such as self-disclosure, sociability, day-today assistance, and shared activities. Many of them also define friendship cognitively in terms of loyalty, trustworthiness, and shared interests. Not all older adults conceptualize friendship in the same way, however. For example, Paul Wright described women's friendships as face-to-face and men's as side-by-side and concluded that older women emphasize the emotional qualities of friendship. In contrast, older men mention indirect indicators of shared friendship activities such as frequency of contact or length of acquaintance. Lawrence Weiss and Marjorie Lowenthal reported on another source of variation, stage of life course; older adults perceive more complexity than younger people.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2