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Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research
Volume 2010, Article ID 340161, 14 pages
Review Article

Reciprocity: A Predictor of Mental Health and Continuity in Elderly People's Relationships? A Review

Department of Research, Diakonhjemmet University College, P.O. Box 184, Vinderen, 0319 Oslo, Norway

Received 25 January 2010; Revised 23 June 2010; Accepted 23 June 2010

Academic Editor: Gjumrakch Aliev

Copyright © 2010 Live Fyrand. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Many studies have demonstrated that social relationships confer mental health benefits. This paper aims to identify whether and how reciprocity in social relationships predicts or is associated with mental health benefits as well as with continuity in elderly people's social relationships. The studies reviewed in this paper show that, among elders, being in a balanced or underbenefited reciprocal position predicts better mental health and life quality than being in an overbenefited position. Throughout the course of life, reciprocity evens out present and earlier reciprocal imbalances, securing continuity in close relationships—particularly between spouses and between elderly parents and adult children. In friendships, securing continuity seems to be based on the maintenance of independence based on balanced reciprocal relations, making these relationships more vulnerable. Due to the problems of conceptualization and measurement in the reviewed studies, one should be cautious in stating a final conclusion that the reciprocity norm has a universal positive effect on mental health and continuity in elderly people's relationships.