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Tove Harnett. Foto: Sanna Dolck Wall

Tove Harnett


Tove Harnett. Foto: Sanna Dolck Wall

Communication technologies and older people’s social networks – a literature review


  • Tove Harnett

Summary, in English

Social networks and social support are known contributors to health for people in all ages and may be of particular importance for older age groups (2008). There is a rich research tradition on older people’s social networks and during the last decades researchers have analyzed the meanings of these networks from different perspectives. Already in the early 1970s Granovetter (1973, 2005) put forward the idea of “The strength of weak ties”, by analyzing social networks in terms of acquaintances (weak ties) and close friends and family (strong ties). A decade later, Litwak described how different ties are useful for different kinds of purposes (Litwak, 1985). More recently, Henning and Lieberg (1996) have further developed the concept of weak ties in order to analyze neighborhood networks.

However, despite a rich research history in older people’s social networks, little is known about how social networks are influenced by older people’s use of communication technologies. Although scholars agree that the Internet and other kinds of technology have changed the way people communicate, the literature is uncertain - and sometimes contradictory - on how communication technology influences social networks. There are studies that suggest that communication technology distracts people from their “real life” social networks, thereby weakening these ties (Kraut et al., 1998; Nie & Hillygus, 2002). Other studies suggest that the Internet and other kinds of technology are used to strengthen social networks and social capital (Wellman, Quan Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001).

I here present a review of research literature with an explicit focus on how older people’s social networks are influenced by their use of communication technology. The overarching objectives of this literature review are twofold: (1) to review the methodological and theoretical characteristics of the studies and (2) to draw conclusions about the state of knowledge in the field.






Working paper


School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University


  • Social Work