Social networks and their impact on access to health care: Insights from older widows living alone in Kottayam, South India

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    The feminisation of ageing observed across the world is a significant challenge in many societies. Women's greater longevity is associated with the increased likelihood of age-related disability and morbidity. Furthermore, gendered disadvantage and poverty can make access to health care increasingly problematic in later years. Among the Indian states, Kerala has the highest number of residents above the age of 60 and many are older widows. Given this context, this paper explores what promotes access to health care for older widows living alone in the south Indian state of Kerala. Thirty-two in-depth interviews, eight focus group discussions and eight units of participant observation were carried out among widows, health-care providers and key informants. Applying a reflexive inductive approach to our analysis, the main barriers to access that emerged were altered family structures and loneliness, whilst enablers included good social networks and access to neighbourhood clinics. Our participants' social networks were drawn from three levels: family, neighbourhood and the wider community. The ability to form a personal community from their social networks and the quality of relationships within this community strongly predicted the capacity to access health care. Efforts to improve access to health care for older widows requires a response that is rooted in the socio-cultural context of the community. Comprehensive social protection policies that promote initiatives to engender social capital among the older population, decentralised primary health-care services, and the training and sensitisation of health service staff would be key to promote equitable access for older widows.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1141-1163
    Number of pages23
    JournalAgeing and Society
    Issue number5
    Early online date2021
    Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2023


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