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Living Alone, Social Integration, and Mental Health

Michael Hughes and Walter R. Gove
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 87, No. 1 (Jul., 1981), pp. 48-74
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2778539
Page Count: 27
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Living Alone, Social Integration, and Mental Health
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Abstract

This study is an examination of the effects of living alone on mental health, mental well-being, and maladaptive behaviors. The findings may be summarized in three basic points. First, there is no evidence that persons who live alone are selected into that living arrangement because of preexisting psychological problems, noxious personality characteristics, or incompetent socioeconomic behavior. Second, contrary to what would be predicted by structural functionalism or symbolic interactionism, the data analysis in this study shows that unmarried persons who live alone are in no worse, and on some indicators are in better, mental health than unmarried persons who live with others. Furthermore, divorced and never-married persons who live alone have more in common with married persons, in terms of their mental health characteristics, than do such persons who live with others. Third, unmarried persons who live alone show a slight tendency to be more likely to engage in maladaptive behaviors such as drug and alcohol use than are unmarried persons who live with others. These findings have implications for our thinking about the effects of social integration on mental health; the results raise the posibility that socially integrated relationships which provide not only (1) direct social rewards through reinforcement and increased meaning in life but also (2) regulation of behavior through mechanisms of social constraint, obligation, and responsibility, may entail not only rewards but also costs. For persons who live in socially integrated relationships, if the decrements to mental health produced by social regulation are not balanced by social rewards through some as yet unknown process, such social integration may help create psychological distress.

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