Gender Differences in the Exchange of Social Support with Friends, Neighbors, and Coworkers at Midlife

Liebler, Carolyn, and Gary D. Sandefur
Working paper no. 2001-12


People have always relied on their friends, neighbors, and coworkers as well as family members for social support, but support from outside the family may be increasingly important as high divorce rates persist and high levels of residential mobility continue to take people away from their relatives. Past research suggests that women give and receive more emotional support than do men, but little research has explored gender differences in overall patterns of exchanging social support. We use latent class analysis of data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study to show that there are four major patterns of social support exchange for both men and women at midlife. Three of these patterns—high exchange, emotional support exchange, and low exchange—are very similar for men and women. However, almost half of men can be characterized as low exchangers while almost half of women can be characterized as emotional support exchangers. Around 10 percent of both men and women are high exchangers. Multivariate analyses show that among both men and women, the unmarried are the most likely to be high exchangers after controlling for other factors that might possibly be related to the exchange of social support.