Health and Well-Being of Older Adults in Ghana

Social Support, Gender, and Ethnicity

Paul K. Ayernor


Social support is an important resource in old age in many developing countries including Ghana. Typically, in the absence of a well-developed welfare state, the traditional kinship ties serve as old age security. However, these relationship support links tend to differ by ethnicity and gender of older adults. The first goal of this paper is to examine how structural and functional social support are associated with disparities in health and well-being at older ages in Ghana. The second goal is to tease out how ethnicity and gender affect support in old age and its impact on health and well-being. The data come from Wave 1 of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Study on Global Aging and Adult Health (SAGE) (2007). Patrilineal ethnicities seem to offer more support in old age. Overall, the results show that structural support factors are more important than functional support factors. Regarding functional support, older adults who receive support, provide support, and perceive the availability of support are less likely to report better health and well-being outcomes. Structural support factors such as the size of one’s household, contact with social ties, and the perceived quality of one’s relationship are significantly associated with health and well-being. Also, older adults are more concerned with their level of social connectedness than with the material resources that flow out of these social relationships. The results suggest that structural and functional social support cannot be substituted for each other, to the extent that each aspect serves different purposes in the lives of current older adults. This evidence further underscores the distinct effects of structural and functional support on health and well-being of older adults in Ghana.

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