Communication with Family and Friends across the Life Course
Each stage of the human life course is characterised by a distinctive pattern of social relations. We study how the intensity and importance of the closest social contacts vary across the life course, using a large database of mobile communication from a European country. We first determine the most likely social relationship type from these mobile phone records by relating the age and gender of the caller and recipient to the frequency, length, and direction of calls. We then show how communication patterns between parents and children, romantic partner, and friends vary across the six main stages of the adult family life course. Young adulthood is dominated by a gradual shift of call activity from parents to close friends, and then to a romantic partner, culminating in the period of early family formation during which the focus is on the romantic partner. During middle adulthood call patterns suggest a high dependence on the parents of the ego, who, presumably often provide alloparental care, while at this stage female same-gender friendship also peaks. During post-reproductive adulthood, individuals and especially women balance close social contacts among three generations. The age of grandparenthood brings the children entering adulthood and family formation into the focus, and is associated with a realignment of close social contacts especially among women, while the old age is dominated by dependence on their children.