Social engagement and physical frailty in later life: does marital status matter?

Yi Wang, Zhuo Chen, Chengchao Zhou

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Physical frailty is a common characteristic of older people with the ageing process and has been viewed as a major public health issue. The longitudinal association between different social engagement and physical frailty among older people has not been explored adequately in China. Marital status forms a critical context for the link between social engagement and frailty among older people, which might constitute a moderating process. The purpose of the present study is to investigate the longitudinal association between social engagement and the changes in physical frailty among Chinese older adults, and to examine whether the association between social engagement and frailty differs by marital status. Methods: The data use in this study were from the data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study aged 60+ years from 2011 to 2015. A total of 6575 respondents who participated in at least one follow-up wave were included in the analysis. The relationship between social engagement and changes in frailty over time, and the moderating role of marital status were estimated using individual fixed-effects models. Sensitive analyses were conducted to test the robustness of the results. Results: After adjusting the confounders, participants who interact with friends (Coef: -1.309, P < 0.001), engaging in hobby groups (Coef: -1.189, P < 0.001), engaging in sports groups (Coef: -0.945, P = 0.001), and volunteering (Coef: -1.957, P = 0.001) with a frequency of almost daily had a significantly lower frailty risk than participants who never engaging in those activities. The association between frequent engaging in hobby groups and physical frailty was strongest for unmarried than married older adults (Coef: -1.325, P = 0.031). Conclusions: Frequent social engagement might help to decrease the risk of frailty in the Chinese older population. This finding has important implications for public health policy and encourages the incorporation of a broad range of social engagement into the daily lives of older individuals. Specially, encouraging unmarried older adults to engage in intellectual activities, such as playing chess or Mahjong with others, may be an effective way to reduce physical frailty.

Original languageEnglish
Article number248
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2021


  • China health and retirement longitudinal study
  • Fixed-effects model
  • Frailty
  • Marital status
  • Social engagement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Social engagement and physical frailty in later life: does marital status matter?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this