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Understanding the Frequency of Interpersonal Touch in Later Life: Race, Gender, Class, and Neighborhood Considerations

Mon, August 13, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Floor: Level 100, 113A


Touch is an important element of human social interaction. Though the benefits of touch in clinical populations are increasingly understood, we know little of how touch is distributed amongst community dwelling, non-institutionalized older adults. The present study considers whether greeting/affectionate touch is a function of (a) predisposing individual characteristics (race, gender, and socioeconomic status); (b) the interpersonal environment (opportunities afforded by social network structures and involvement in formal and informal social activity); and (c) the neighborhood context (neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage and neighborhood racial composition). Data come from Wave 1 (2005-2006) of the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally-representative study of adults age 57-85 (n=2713). Multivariate ordinal logistic regression analyses reveal that variation in touch is related to each component of our conceptual model. Though there were several modest demographic and neighborhood differences in the likelihood of receiving touch, the most consistent predictor of greeting/affectionate touch was the interpersonal environment. The study illustrates the importance of considering greeting/affectionate touch as a form of corporeal non-verbal communication, that, while typically ignored by social scientists, offers a unique lens into patterns of social connection.


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