The Social Context of Aging (SoCA)

The SoCA program focuses on the social functioning of older adults. Social functioning concerns how people are embedded in social networks of kin and non-kin, in employment and in voluntary work and organizations. Differences in social functioning are studied in two broader contexts. First, in the context of socioeconomic position, gender and migration, where the role of changes in health with aging are of specific interest. Second, in the context of cohort and period differences, reflecting the rapid changes in many domains in our society relevant to aging. These changes include, among others, individualization, changing structure of families, increase of use of information and communication technologies in daily life, and changes in the provisions offered by the welfare state.

The two research questions central in SoCA are: How do individual characteristics, aging and the societal context affect social functioning in later life? What are the consequences of older adult’s social functioning for well-being and health? Answering of these questions is facilitated by analysis of empirical data, often derived from the 29 years running LASA study (doi 10.17026/dans-287-pkwn) and supplemented by a variety of other data-sets. Some studies analyze qualitative data, but most analyze quantitative data. Cross-sectional, longitudinal and cohort-sequential survey designs and experimental designs are applied.

Three outcomes are frequently studied. First, loneliness is the subjective evaluation of social embeddedness and belonging, which makes it primarily rooted in kin and non-kin personal networks. This line of research is led by Van Tilburg and applies a layered model of explanatory factors including proximal factors (e.g. the quality of the personal network and meeting opportunities in organizations) and distal factors (e.g. social structural characteristics such as income and migration background). Second, the informal support and care people receive refers to the care arrangement around older people. This line of research is led by Broese van Groenou and applies a behavioral model on individual caregiving. The model states that, in response to the care recipient’s need for care, the intention to provide care is based on general attitudes, quality of the relationship, normative beliefs, and perceived barriers. Third, individual resilience is the core theme of the research by Huisman, with a focus on socio-economic inequality in health and well-being. Huisman is scientific director of the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA), and acts as an important bridge to cooperation with researchers from other disciplines such as epidemiology, psychiatry and health sciences. The three lines of research are relevant to well-being of older people in contemporary society, and have major consequences for various aspects of health. In addition to the three professors, SoCA hosts in 2019 a sponsored chair by the National Institute for Social Research (de Boer), three associate professors (Thomese, Suanet, van Ingen), one assistant professor (van der Horst), five contract PhD candidates and four external PhD candidates.
SoCA is coordinated by prof. dr. Theo van Tilburg (

Group members

Boer, Alice de
Broese van Groenou, prof.dr. Marjolein
Huisman, prof.dr. Martijn
Horst, dr. Mariska van der
Ingen, dr. Erik van
Suanet, dr. Bianca
Tilburg, prof.dr. Theo van  Programme leader SoCA

PhD Students
Abbing, Jens
Blok, Marije, MSc
Dissels, Rosita, MSc
Gardeniers, Maura 
Shen, Ying