Theses Doctoral

Friend in Need: A Contingency Model of Social Support Networks and Health Status

Auslander, Gail K.

Social support networks have been shown to be related to the health status of various groups of people, when measured in different ways and under different circumstances. Yet, there have been few comparisons of this relationship across population groups. Therefore the purpose of this study was to compare the ways that social support networks relate to the health status of different population groups.

The study used data that was collected in Wave I of the National Survey of Personal Health Practices and Consequences in 1979, in telephone interviews with 3025 persons aged 20-64 residing in households with telephones. Ten target groups were selected for study--those with high stress jobs, the unemployed, the aged, the widowed, the bereaved, the disabled, those who had recently experienced serious illness or injury, the poor, those with negative status inconsistency, and single parents.

It was found that there was no uniform pattern in the way that social networks relate to health status, but rather different elements of social networks related to the health status of members of different target groups. These relationships were fairly consistent regardless of which of two health status measures were employed--self-rated health status and composite health status. And social networks were more strongly related to the health status of target group members than they were to the health of the general population.

Existing theories regarding the ability of social networks to predict health status are explored, in an attempt to explain the findings of this study. As they prove inadequate, a new model is proposed, in which the needs of various groups are seen as determining which social network elements will be able to modify health status. That is to say, the success of social networks in maintaining health is contingent upon a proper fit between social networks, individual needs and health status.

The implications of the study for social work practice and policy center around the importance of specificity in relating networks to health. In addition, avenues for future research are explored, especially in designing studies to specifically test the proposed model.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Black, Rita
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 4, 2015