Inequality in Social Support: A Comparative Look at Compartmentalization in Close Networks

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:30 AM
Room: Booth 42
Oral Presentation
Marion CODDOU , Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Paolo PARIGI , Sociology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Social support helps households manage everyday necessities, take advantage of opportunities, and ensure survival in times of crisis.  Previous research finds that the majority of informal social support comes from close friends and family, and these networks are compartmentalized, with different kinds of ties providing different kinds of support (Wellman 1992, Small 2009).  However, recent ethnographic work suggests that in low resource networks, certain relational expectations break down, leading to a wider search for assistance (Desmond 2012, Menjivar 2000, Smith 2007). In light of this, research must move beyond in depth case studies to compare relational effects across social groups.

Our research asks 1) how types of relations impact social support and 2) how the effects of relational types vary by social position.  Here we distinguish between the characteristics of relationships and the characteristics of individuals.  In doing so, our research considers not only how one's social structural position may influence the availability of resources within networks, but also how one's position may actually alter relational expectations surrounding social support.

We gain comparative leverage by using the Portraits of American Life Study, a nationally representative longitudinal survey with oversamples of racial/ethnic minorities in the United States (Emerson and Sikkink 2006).  The survey provides ego-centric network data on up to four people the respondent feels closest to, excluding those in the same household.  Using hierarchical models, we analyze 8,103 dyads nested in 2,185 personal networks to test hypotheses on how close ties formed through kinship, work, and civic organizations differentially shape social support.  We then look at how the effects of these ties on support vary across economic groups, racial/ethnic groups, and across the life course.  In general, we find that compartmentalization is more likely in high status networks, while disadvantaged groups must activate any and all potentially supportive ties.