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Soc Sci Med. 2002 Mar;54(5):811-25.

How gender affects patterns of social relations and their impact on health: a comparison of one or multiple sources of support from "close persons".

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Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, UCL, London, UK.


Numerous studies have reported gender differences in the effects of social relations on morbidity and mortality. When studying health and associated factors, one cannot ignore that sex differences exist and methods that are not "gender-fair" may lead to erroneous conclusions. This paper presents a critical analysis of the health/social relations association from a measurement perspective, including the definitions of people's networks and how they differ by gender. Findings from the Whitehall II Study of Civil Servants illustrate that women report more close persons in their primary networks, and are less likely to nominate their spouse as the closest person, but both men and women report the same proportion of women among their four closest persons. Women have a wider range of sources of emotional support. To date, most epidemiological studies have habitually analysed support provided by the closest person or confidant(e). We compared the health effects of social support when measured for the closest person only and when information from up to four close persons was incorporated into a weighted index. Information from up to four close persons offered a more accurate portrayal of support exchanged, and gender differences were attenuated, if not eliminated, when this support index was used to predict physical and psychological health.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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