The Convoy Model of Social Relations

There'll only be a small group of people who'll stay by your side throughout your life. They're your clan, your small team of emotionally significant figures. According to an interesting theory, your 'social convoy' is key to your well-being.
The Convoy Model of Social Relations
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 March, 2023

Do you have your own ‘social convoy’? By this, we mean significant friends, family members, and colleagues. Those who have a special place in your heart or are lifelong friends. In fact, we all need characters like these in our daily lives. They’re the kinds who work with you as a team. They’re with you through thick and thin all through your life.

Unchosen loneliness is a black hole for which we, as a species, aren’t prepared. The brain is a social entity that developed and evolved through interaction with other groups of people. Indeed, these brains of different individuals have been key to building alliances and establishing agriculture, technology, culture, and even language itself.

Therefore, it’s a priority to establish social convoys, those with which you travel through your life. As a matter of fact, your health depends on it. Sometimes, you’ll let certain people go and add new ones. Moreover, it’s common that, as you get older and mature, your clans become smaller. However, at the same time, they increase in strength and authenticity.

Your physical and psychological well-being depends on being able to enjoy a sense of belonging with groups of significant people.

friends representing the social caravan theory
Throughout your life, you make up different types of social convoys.

Social convoy theory

In psychology, a social convoy is defined as a group of people who accompanies you over time, and with whom you’ve built valuable bonds of affection and trust. They’re those friends, family, and partners who you can turn to when you need to. It’s with these enriching presences that you share your values and establish your goals.

This interesting term was coined in 1980 by researchers Toni Antonucci and Robert Kahn, from the University of Michigan (USA). The convoy model of social relations is attributed to them. It’s a cornerstone for understanding the importance of relationships for mental well-being and healthy aging.

This model helps us understand a reality that’s not discussed enough. It’s the loneliness of the elderly. This is a silent epidemic that’s a true emergency in society today. That’s because isolation kills. In effect, a lack of solid emotional ties and rewarding interaction on a day-to-day basis makes us sick.

Therefore, building, caring for, and shaping your own social convoys throughout your life will protect you from the onset of certain illnesses and mental problems.

Our individual functioning can change if, when we reach advanced ages, we discover that we lack our own social groups in which to support us in vital, social, and emotional aspects.

The three circles of social networks

The University of Michigan conducted a study that was led by Dr. Antonucci, co-author of the convoy model of social relations. She claims that, throughout our existence, we build three circles of relationships that guarantee good psychosocial development. They’re as follows:

  • The circle closest to you includes the most important people, those without whom your existence would be meaningless. Aging healthily is dependent on maintaining this most intimate social stratum over time (although you may replace some figures with others).
  • The second circle is made up of people who, while aren’t the most significant to you, also contribute to your well-being. They’re certain relatives, friends, colleagues, etc. You might get validation and support from them on certain occasions.
  • The weak ties that define the third circle are just as interesting. They consist of a dynamic and heterogeneous area that includes people like the baker, a neighbor, or even a stranger you might meet one day. They favor your integration into the community and provide you with interesting conversations and new perspectives.

If you create your own social convoy, you’ll age better

What if were to tell you that your longevity depends on the quality of the social convoy that you’ve created over the years? Well, that’s exactly how it is. Indeed, the convoy model of social relations claims that your individual functioning and life expectancy depend on your social networks.

An investigation conducted by Brigham Young University (USA) states that loneliness and not having significant groups of friends and family increases the risk of mortality. We mentioned this earlier. Isolation makes us sick and, lacking figures with whom to interact in our daily lives, kills.

Your brain needs the gratifying stimulation of dialogue, laughter, and complicity at all times and in every circumstance. After all, you suffer stress if you have to watch hours, days, and weeks go by without being able to share your thoughts and experiences with anyone else.

Therefore, having these three different circles of close people to talk to, get out of the house, and make plans with is the best vitamin and the most powerful antidepressant.

Older man symbolizing the Social Caravan Theory
Reaching the autumn of life and seeing ourselves alone has extreme effects on our physical and mental health.

Find time to socialize and increase your life expectancy

When programs are developed to treat loneliness in the elderly, they often fail. That’s because it isn’t easy to change the routine of an individual who’s become used to not socializing and not leaving their home or breaking with their routines. However, the convoy model of social relations offers a comprehensive framework for preventing loneliness and its effects in the last stage of life.

If you want to age in a happy and healthy way, you must become aware of the importance of socializing and building meaningful and enriching bonds. That said, at present, there’s an obvious problem. It’s the fact that young people are feeling increasingly alone and are also experiencing high levels of social anxiety.

There’s also another phenomenon. It’s that people in their 40s and 50s, who are at the peak of their careers, often feel like they no longer have time to socialize. This can cause them to lose friends, family ties, and even partner relationships. For this reason, it must be remembered that building and caring for social relationships requires an element that we almost never have: time.

Therefore, you must make sure you take care of your treasured relationships before loneliness overwhelms you and you’re full of regrets. So, take care of those ties that sustain you through thick and thin. They’ll guarantee that your journey through life is happy and healthy.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Antonucci, Toni & Ajrouch, Kristine & Birditt, Kira. (2013). The Convoy Model: Explaining Social Relations From a Multidisciplinary Perspective. The Gerontologist. 54. 10.1093/geront/gnt118.
  • Toni C. Antonucci, PhD, Kristine J. Ajrouch, PhD, Kira S. Birditt, PhD, The Convoy Model: Explaining Social Relations From a Multidisciplinary Perspective, The Gerontologist, Volume 54, Issue 1, February 2014, Pages 82–92,

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.