Gendered Impacts of Social Support
Does social support benefit the self-rated health of men and women differently? In the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Katharine Donato and colleagues study this question by using data from 3,000 hospitalized heart disease patients. They break their research into two main questions. First, does the frequency of contact with non-marital family members, friends, and neighbors influence the self-rated health of men and women with heart disease differently? Second, does gender influence the effect of social support in the same way at early and later stages of disease progression?
Donato and colleagues find that women report greater improvement in health than men when they have increased contact with non-marital family members, whereas men do not report changes in health as family contact increases. However, only when the heart disease is newly diagnosed does being a woman increase the effect of having more contact with non-marital family members. Among patients with pre-existing diagnoses, more frequent contact with friends and neighbors is associated positively with self-rated health, but this effect is not related to gender.
Previous studies’ inconsistent findings about gender differences in the benefits of social support for health may, the authors conclude, owe to researchers’ oversight regarding the timing of diagnosis as well as unobserved differences in the types of support offered by family, friends, and others.