Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Robert J. McDermott, Ph.D.


Online, Friends, Family, Regression, Complex sample, HRS


BACKGROUND: Studies have shown that strong social networks have a positive effect on physical and psychological well-being. Research suggests that Internet use may affect social networks. However it is not clear if Internet use has a positive or negative effect on social networks. One theory suggests that Internet use displaces face-to-face contacts and off line social participation. Another theory suggests Internet use replaces high quality face-to-face ties with weaker online ties. Other studies however suggest the Internet has a positive effect on social networks. Because older adults have shrinking social networks, but may have more discretionary time than other age groups, the Internet may be a tool that can be used to strengthen social networks for this age group. METHODS: This study uses a sample from the 2004 wave of the Health and Retirement Survey to assess the association between Internet use and social networks.

Age is tested for moderation of the association between Internet use and social networks. Oversampling and design effects of the sample are accounted for using weights and special procedures in SAS version 9.1. Univariate, bivariate and linear regression analyses are employed for the examination of associations and moderation. RESULTS: In regression models (n=2,284) considering a number of control variables, frequency of contact with friends, frequency of contact with family, and attendance at organizational meetings (not including religious services), were found to have a significant positive association with Internet use, while in-person contact with family members (other than children) had a significant negative association with Internet use. Age was not found to moderate any of the significant associations between Internet use and measures of social networking.

CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest the Internet could be used as a tool in interventions designed to strengthen social networks for older adults and that policies to increase the availability of the Internet should be considered. Internet use is not associated with a decrease in social participation based on attendance of religious services or other organizations. The amount of time spent on Internet use is not considered in this study and is a limitation.