Chapter 12 of The Longevity Project explores the role of social support in predicting longevity, with social support measured by social network size, feeling of connection to others, and frequency of helping others. Interestingly, the authors found that while large social networks and helping others were beneficial to long life, feeling loved and cared for was not correlated with longevity. This surprised me; I do not think that having a large network is always crucial, as introverted individuals may benefit more from a few close relationships than from multiple distant ties. As well, owning a pet was not found to reduce mortality whether or not a person was socially isolated and in need of companionship. Overall, the authors conclude that social relations are the root of good health and longevity and these ties can be cultivated at any age.
This chapter relates to me because I find that helping others increases my feelings of social connectedness and meaning in life. I am part of a service organization and love interacting with the Richmond community, particularly children, and research in the book substantiates that as much as I am helping others through volunteering, they are helping me by adding to my social support.
As well, this chapter makes me hopeful about my longevity, as I scored highly on the social support scale and feel fulfilled on all three aspects.
Chapter 13 of The Longevity Project presents interesting findings about the gender gap in long life. In almost all world societies, women outlive men, and if this is not the case, male widows rarely live long after their wife’s passing. The Terman researchers developed a gender diagnosticity scale by replacing traditional measures of masculinity and femininity, instrumentality and expressiveness, and instead using information about preferences and interests in different occupations. Interestingly, whether an individual was male or female, masculinity was a greater risk for longevity, substantiating that more than genetic factors contribute to the gender gap. In speculating about the association between masculinity and shorter life, the Terman researchers point to greater stress in traditionally masculine duties, such as taking on financial responsibility, and unhealthy masculine coping mechanisms, such as not admitting to a need for help. As well, the book describes that neurotic men do better than typically masculine men after the death of a wife as they are more likely to take care of their health and listen to doctor advice. Finally, the Terman researchers point to better social connections in women and less masculine men as a reason for the negative relationship between masculinity and longevity.
This chapter relates to my Dad as he is a more “feminine” man who enjoys art and music and has strong social ties with friends and colleagues. These aspects of his personality aid his longevity, particularly because he cultivates social support and meaningful relationships. In contrast, one of my Uncles is typically “masculine” and somewhat “macho”. As a result, he does not ask for help from doctors or take adequate care of his health, as seen when he developed Diabetes II and had a stroke in the past few years.
This chapter predicts well for my longevity as I have a highly feminine score on the gender diagnosticity scale and have close social relations. As well, I am somewhat neurotic, a trait found to benefit longevity in some contexts. In this way, aspects of my femininity benefit my life expectancy.