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Open Access Research article

Gender differences in the association of perceived social support and social network with self-rated health status among older adults: a population-based study in Brazil

Silvana C Caetano1*, Cosme MFP Silva2 and Mario V Vettore3

Author Affiliations

1 Municipal Health Secretariat of Rio de Janeiro, Rua Tiradentes, 195, 1301, Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, RJ CEP: 24210-510, Brazil

2 Department of Epidemiology and Quantitative Methods in Health, Sergio Arouca National School of Public Health, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rua Leopoldo Bulhões, 1480, Rio de Janeiro, RJ CEP: 21041-210, Brazil

3 Unit of Dental Public Health, School of Clinical Dentistry, University of Sheffield, 19 Claremont Crescent, Sheffield S10 2TA, UK

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BMC Geriatrics 2013, 13:122  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-13-122

Published: 15 November 2013



Older adults are more likely to live alone, because they may have been predeceased by their spouse and friends. Social interaction could also be reduced in this age group due by limited mobility caused by chronic conditions. Therefore, aging is frequently accompanied by reduced social support, which might affect health status. Little is known about the role of gender in the relationship between social support and health in older adults. Hence, the present study tests the hypothesis that gender differences exist in the relationship between perceived social support, social network, and self-rated health (SRH) among older adults.


A cross-sectional study using two-stage probabilistic sampling recruited 3,649 individuals aged 60 years and above. Data were collected during the national influenza vaccination campaign in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2006. Individual interviews collected information on SRH, perceived social support, social network, and other covariates. Multivariate logistic regression analyses using nested models were conducted separately for males and females. Independent variables were organised into six blocks: (1) perceived social support and social network, (2) age group, (3) socioeconomic characteristics, (4) health-related behaviours, (5) use of health care services, (6) functional status measures and somatic health problems.


Older men who did not participate in group activities were more likely to report poor SRH compared to those who did, (OR = 1.63; 95% CI = 1.16–2.30). Low perceived social support predicted the probability of poor SRH in women (OR = 1.64; 95% CI = 1.16–2.34). Poor SRH was associated with low age, low income, not working, poor functional capacity, and depression in both men and women. More somatic health problems were associated with poor SRH in women.


The association between social interactions and SRH varies between genders. Low social network involvement is associated with poor SRH in older men, whereas low perceived social support is associated with poor SRH in older women. The hypothesis that the relationship of perceived social support and social networks to SRH differs according to gender has been confirmed.

Older adults; Perceived social support; Social networks; Social inequality