Individuals and Communities: Social Relations, Cooperation, and Well-Being

A frequently heard concern related to the ongoing economic and societal transformations is that the fabric of society - community solidarity and informal social support – erodes. A combination of factors is deemed responsible for a development, that some believe puts more and more pressure on individuals personal social networks. For one, it is increased mobility and the changing nature of the employment relation (disappearance of life-time employment and a shift towards the “boundaryless career”) that shortens the “shadow of the future” and increase cultural and professional diversity in both work and non-work contexts. As a consequence, building up durable long-term relations with one’s neighbors and colleagues becomes more and more challenging. A second development results from government policies advocating more personal responsibility and a stronger involvement of citizens’ immediate social support network in many policy domains, ranging from care, job search, to local energy provision. Many observers fear that these developments may exacerbate existing socio-economic differences, causing the “social gradient” in health to widen even further.

This raises several questions, three of which form the core of this research theme. This theme is carried by one postdoc project and eight PhD-projects, five of which ongoing.

First, how do the different forms of support that individuals draw from their personal social networks change through time, and how do these changes affect their physical and mental health and social well-being, particularly in old age? This problem is studied in three projects, which cover (a) the social determinants of caregiver burden, (b) the link between social relations and mental health; and (c) the link between socio-economic inequality and health.

Second, to what degree do status and identity concerns affect an individual’s well-being and willingness to build (cooperative) social ties? One completed and two ongoing projects tackle this problem.

Third, under which conditions do personal improvement trainings increase the well-being of employees? This question was central to a recently completed PhD-project, which used a cluster randomized control trial design to investigate the effects of one personal improvement training, Covey’s Seven Habits, on well-being, performance and person-organization fit.