Exchanging Social Support with Friends, Neighbors, and Coworkers

Liebler, Carolyn, and Gary Sandefur
Working paper no. 1998-19


What is the structure of exchange of social support between mature adults and their friends, neighbors, and coworkers? What factors are associated with involvement with different types of exchange? In this paper, we address these questions with respect to four types of social support: (1) transportation, errands, or shopping; (2) housework, yard work, repairs, or other work around the house; (3) baby-sitting or child care; and, (4) advice. Most work on giving and receiving help has focused on family members. Less research has been done on assistance given to and received from friends or other non-family members.

Using the 1992/93 wave of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, we find that among people in their early 50s, 45 percent report that they exchange little social support with friends, neighbors, or coworkers. On the other hand, 25 percent frequently exchange advice with friends, neighbors, or coworkers. The remaining 30 percent can be classified as high exchangers, advice and transportation exchangers, or helpers. Using a multinomial logit model, we show that individuals who are unmarried, highly educated, and highly involved in club and/or church activities are the most likely to exchange social support with non-family members. Women are more likely to exchange advice only, and a combination of advice and transportation, than are men, while men are more likely than women to report providing assistance that is not reciprocated.