Relational burden, depression, and loneliness among American older adults: an inquiry into the ‘dark side of social capital’

Harris Hyun soo Kim, Jong Hyun Jung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objectives: Social networks and resources embedded in them are shown to promote mental health. This study examines whether there may be deleterious consequences of interpersonal ties and social capital on loneliness and depression in later life. Method: Using data from the latest wave of National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP) 2015–2016, we examine how relational burden is associated with mental health outcomes among older American adults. We also assess whether relational burden measured at the contextual, or regional, level may moderate the link between collective efficacy (neighborhood cohesion) and depression/loneliness. Results: Individual-level relational burden stemming from both kin and non-kin members is associated with higher levels of depression and loneliness. Moreover, regional-level kin and non-kin types of relational burden significantly amplify the negative relationship between collective efficacy and depression. For loneliness, however, we do not find such cross-level interaction. Conclusion: Unlike prior research using conventional measures of social capital (e.g. trust, frequency of social interaction, and organizational participation) to evaluate its potential downside, our study contributes to the literature by directly operationalizing the concept of ‘relational burden’, stress due to excessive demands from others, at individual and contextual levels of analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)630-639
Number of pages10
JournalAging and Mental Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) reported there is no funding associated with the work featured in this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Social capital
  • collective efficacy
  • depression
  • loneliness
  • relational burden
  • social support


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