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INTRODUCTION: Previous studies have shown that engaging in formal social participation may protect against declining mental health, but social network size (the number of close social ties a person has) may moderate the relationship. We assessed the potential moderating role of social network size using longitudinal data. METHODS: Nationally representative data from two consecutive waves (2011, 2013) of the SHARE survey were analyzed. The data consisted of 38,300 adults from 13 European countries aged 50 years and older in 2011. Measures pertaining to formal social participation, social network size, quality of life, and depression symptoms were used. Multivariable linear regression models were conducted. RESULTS: The majority of participants (over 70% of the sample) had a social network size of four or less close social ties. We identified significant moderations in both models. Individuals with relatively few close social ties may have benefitted from formal social participation both in terms of reductions in depression symptoms and increases in quality of life, while formal social participation among those with many social ties did not appear to be beneficial, and may even to some extent have been detrimental. CONCLUSIONS: Declines in mental health specifically among those with relatively few close social ties could potentially be prevented through the promotion of formal social participation. It is possible that such strategies could have a greater impact by specifically targeting individuals that are otherwise socially isolated. High levels of formal participation among those with relatively many close social ties may not be pragmatically beneficial.

Original publication




Journal article


Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol

Publication Date



Aging, Depression, Quality of life, Social network, Social participation