The role of family, friends, and neighbors in providing social support at older ages has been a longstanding topic of interest in public health and the sociology and demography of aging. In contrast, the role of social networks in shaping—and being shaped by—economic decisions has relatively recently generated substantial attention among economists. One area of emphasis has been the impact of social networks on education, employment, and labor supply outcomes, particularly for younger individuals. Social connections may aid in finding employment, and there may be peer effects and other social interactions in labor supply and education. However, there has been little work on older individuals, and little work on the reverse channel: the impact of work and employment on social networks and social connectedness. In particular, employment may provide opportunities to expand one’s social network, or may crowd out the time necessary to foster social ties. Transitions out of the labor force at older ages may have the potential to induce large changes in social networks.
This paper has a simple goal: to examine the impact of work and retirement on social networks. It uses novel data on older Americans from the first two waves of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP). In particular, the NSHAP gathered egocentric data on the social network of each respondent. These data are used to examine how changes in labor force participation, hours worked, and retirement affect network size, composition, and a variety of metrics of network density for older individual.