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Informal and Formal Social Supports: Where do Low-Income Women go for Help?

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Social support is a critical to well-being (Green & Rodgers, 2001) and may serve a particularly important role for low-income mothers. Low-income mothers are at heightened risk of postpartum depression (Pfost et al., 1990) and parental stress, which is linked to a host of poor outcomes for both mother and child (e.g., Field, 2010). Although the benefits of social support are well-established, less is known about how mothers piece together different types of formal and informal supports during the first year of their child’s life. Our study builds upon the existing literature by examining support networks in a demographically diverse sample of women and in an overall resource-rich city (Salsberry et al., 2016). Further, we utilize different theoretical lenses to understand the how different types of social support buffer low-income women from parenting stress and post-partum depression including a neurobiological framework (Ozbay, 2008), the maternal role framework (Suplee et al., 2014), the Buffering Model of Stress (Cohen & Wills, 1985).
Our study utilizes low-income mothers (n = 187) from a Midwestern city participating in a longitudinal birth cohort study. Women were asked to report on various types of informal and formal social supports upon which they rely. Three scales were created from a battery of items: Emotional support (α = .97), child-rearing support (α = .96), and material/financial support (α =.91). Preliminary findings suggest that, on average, women in our study feel a high degree of emotional support (M = 3.41, SD = .61, range: 1-4) as well as child-rearing support (M = 3.91, SD = .63, range = 1-4). Ratings of material/financial support (e.g., someone to ask for a loan) were lower overall (M = 2.87, SD = .78, range: 1-4), but there were still roughly 25% of women who were one SD above the mean of material/financial support. Importantly, each woman in our sample reported having at least one person they could rely on for unpaid help. Women in our sample had an average of 5 family members (SD = 4.59), 2 friends (SD = 1.90), and 4 neighbors or community members (SD = 3.81) upon whom they could rely. Roughly 72% of women relied upon a spouse or romantic partner and about 58% relied upon parents for help. One main finding was that women did not utilize many, if any, services from local groups such as food banks or free or discount utility programs. In fact, 44% of our sample did not utilize any local community group even after reporting an issue. For example, although 17 women reported having trouble feeding themselves or their families, only 4 accessed the food bank. Further analysis will use geocoding to determine whether distance was a factor. We will also create profiles to better understand the informal and formal social supports low-income women use during the first year of their child’s life.

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