Exacerbating Inequalities: Social Networks, Racial/Ethnic Disparities, and the COVID-19 Pandemic
OBJECTIVES: The disruption and contraction of older adults' social networks are among the less-discussed consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our objective is to provide an evidence-based commentary on racial/ethnic disparities in social network resources and draw attention to the ways in which disasters differentially impact social networks, with meaningful insight for the ongoing pandemic. METHODS: We draw upon prior research on social networks and past natural disasters to identify major areas of network inequality. Attention is given to how pre-pandemic racial/ethnic network disparities are exacerbated during the current crisis, with implications for physical and mental health outcomes. RESULTS: Evidence from the literature shows a robust association between strong social networks and physical and mental health outcomes. During times of crisis, access to social networks for older adults are disrupted, particularly for marginalized groups. We document pre-pandemic disparities in social networks resources and offer insight for examining the impact of COVID-19 on disrupting social networks among older adults. DISCUSSION: Importantly, racial/ethnic disparities in social networks both prior to and as a result of the pandemic intensify existing inequalities and demonstrate the necessity of better understanding social network inequalities for marginalized older adults, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 health crisis.