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Social Support: Summary & Data Highlights

Adults without a partner reported receiving significantly less social support than those in couple relationships.  

The term social support refers to the physical and emotional comfort, and the practical resources, that we receive from family, friends, co-workers, and others. Having someone to count on can buffer the effects of stressful life events.

King County adults were asked 9 questions about how often they got specific types of social support.  Responses ranged from 1 (“none of the time”) to 5 (“all of the time”). Answers to the 9 questions were added to create a social support score with a possible range from 9 to 45.  The King County average score was 38.5 – equivalent to answering “most of the time” to 8 of the 9 questions and “all of the time” to 1 of them.

Relationship status and having children in the household mattered.

  • Adults who were members of a couple (married or unmarried) reported getting more social support than those who were separated, divorced, widowed, or never-married.
  • Adults in households with children received less social support than adults without children.

Place didn’t make a difference in 2011, but trends differed by region.

  • Average levels of social support did not differ across regions.
  • In all regions and the County as a whole, adults were more likely to report always having “affectionate” support (love and affection) than always having “tangible” support (helping with chores, or helping out in times of need).
  • Social support in South Region was lower in 2011 than it had been in 2004, but did not change in other regions or in the County as a whole.

Gender, race, health, country of birth, and primary language mattered.

  • Women reported higher levels of social support than men.
  • Whites had higher social support scores than people of color.
  • Adults in fair or poor health received less social support than those in excellent, very good, or good health.
  • Adults born in the U.S. had higher social support scores than those born in other countries.
  • Adults whose primary language was English reported higher social support than those whose first language was not English.

Income, education, and employment mattered.

  • Adults with incomes at or above $75,000 reported higher levels of social support than those at the bottom of the income scale.
  • College graduates reported more social support than adults with a high school education or less.
  • Adults who were retired, employed, or unemployed did not differ in social support, but those who were unable to work felt they had less support.

"[Healthy Start has a] moms’ group, and that’s so helpful, because you need people around who are in your position, and you can talk to, especially if you can’t afford to go to counseling."
Young Latina mother of an infant in 2-parent family living in 1-bedroom apartment in Redmond.

"We take the kids to the Easter Egg Hunt when they have it over here, in Woodinville. We do holiday stuff that the community puts on. And it’s nice, because there’s an event to go to that’s not expensive…. But, as far as like a community of support, I don’t feel it.… People just seem to keep to themselves. They seem to not really want to invite new people into their lives, you know?"
Mother of 2 in 2-parent family living in rented house in North King County