Barriers to social support among low-income mothers

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The literature on personal networks suggests that individuals who have a limited ability to contribute to their network run the risk of being socially excluded and are often denied assistance. The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which poor health and adverse life-events constitute barriers to support from personal networks among low-income mothers in the USA. Using survey data from the Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three City Study (n=1,910), this study estimates a series of ordinary least squares regression and change models to test direct and mediated associations between poor health, adverse life-events, and perceived support. Both the cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses show that mothers who suffer from psychological distress report lower support than their healthier counterparts, so do mothers with poor physical health. Domestic violence is also found to be negatively associated with support, but its effect is mainly driven by poor health. No effect is revealed for either substance abuse or engagement in illegal activities. The restricted character of the sample may leave differentials by socioeconomic status unrevealed. The most vulnerable and disadvantaged mothers, those in greatest need for support, are the least likely to have it available from their networks. Hence this study highlights the need of providing support through formal channels in the community. By treating support as a dependent variable, this study sheds light on the factors related to low-income mothers' social well-being and helps reveal the conditions that can impede their participation in support networks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-133
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
StatePublished - 20 Apr 2012


  • Health
  • Individual psychology
  • Low income mothers
  • Psychological distress
  • Social isolation
  • Social networks
  • Social support
  • United States of America
  • Women


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