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March 2018

Mr Daniel Oehm

Honours graduate


Honours thesis

A generalised meta-analysis: social networks association to mortality

In 1976 Cassel and Cobb hypothesised that better social networks have a beneficial effect on a persons health. Since then, there have been many attempts to test this theory. This is no easy task; social networks are difficult to define and measure. There are many aspects to a person's social network. Previous studies have often decided to direct the focus on a particular element of social networks, such as the structural component of an individuals social network or the physical characteristics such as size and density of the connections. Many studies have taken a more psychosocial or emotional approach and directing their focus towards the level of support received from various members of a social network such as spouse, friends, relatives, neighbours or members of the local community. Other authors deal with the effects of different kinds of support such as emotional support or instrumental support on health. The ma jority of studies in this area have focused on the effects of social networks mortality and the results have varied considerably. Some studies some have reported significant associations between social networks and mortality while others have found no association. These studies are particularly relevant to Australian policymakers since Australia's population is aging. Recent figures from the 2006 census show that the mean age of Australians is 37 years of age, which is an increase of 3 years since the previous census. Pro jections of Australia's age provided by the ABS suggest that the mean age will increase over the next few decades under 3 scenarios with different fertility assumptions. Figure 1.1 gives a visual representation of the pro jected distribution of Australia's population for two and five decades in the future. Each year Australia spends approximately $79 billion on health care, of this the federal gov- ernment contributes $35.7 billion1 . The health care services include public and private hospitals, residential aged care facilities, medical services, pharmaceuticals, community and public health, dental services, administration and research, capital expenditure and others. Slightly more than one third of this amount is spent on public and private hospitals, 6.3% on high level aged care facilities, 16.5% on medical services and 13.9% on pharmaceuticals. As Australia's population ages, public and private hospitals and other aged care facilities may face increasing demand from an older, frailer population. The identification of factors that predict better health among older people may inform policymakers of ways to maximise the period of good health for older Aus- tralians. An important first step in this is to consider how time to death may be affected by such factors.