Abstract: In general, the literature about social support networks (SSNs) has been divided into two different statements: On the one hand, social support is a safety net that helps the ego confront disadvantages in life. On the other hand, studies have shown how SSNs could act as sources of constraints for ego, especially in poverty. In this study, we looked into the SSNs of older people over time and found how those two paths co‐exist and depend on the socioeconomic status of ego. Then, this article aims to discover how cumulative social inequalities intersect with social networks in facilitating or hampering social support over time, impacting retirement experience. Specifically, we want to observe if and how the life trajectories of older people from different socioeconomic statuses affect how people build their SSNs in terms of structure and composition. This article presents a mixed‐method project that collected qualitative life history interviews from 30 older women and men in Santiago, Chile. The results show that socioeconomic status plays a role in shaping individual experiences of retirement but that these experiences are shaped through SSNs structural and compositional characteristics. People identify salient life events and the relevant networks and conjointly discuss supportive and/or exploitative aspects of their networks. The amount of support they give to others or that they receive from their alters accumulates over time, resulting in a progressive social inclusion or exclusion mechanism. This article concludes that SSNs during retirement are shaped by the ego’s socioeconomic status and life history.
Keywords: ageing population; life history; life trajectory; retirement; social support network; socioeconomic status