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Social Support: Notes & Sources


Confidence interval (also called "error bar") is the range of values that includes the true value 95% of the time. If the confidence intervals of two groups do not overlap, the difference between groups is statistically significant (meaning that chance or random variation is unlikely to explain the difference).   

King County regions: The geographic boundaries of the four King County sub-regions (North, Seattle, East, and South) are defined by the aggregation of ZIP codes. See map of regions here.

Race/Ethnicity: Federal standards mandate that race and ethnicity (Hispanic origin) are distinct concepts requiring 2 separate questions when collecting data from an individual. "Hispanic origin" is meant to capture the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of an individual (or his/her parents) before arriving in the United States. Persons of Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race. Communities Count's terms for racial/ethnic groups are derived from those used by the U.S Census Bureau in 2010.

  • Communities Count terms:  Hispanic, Non-Hispanic, White Non-Hispanic, Black, American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN), Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (NHPI), White, and Multiple Race (Multiple). Persons of Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race and are included in other racial categories. Racial/ethnic groups are sometimes combined when sample sizes are too small for valid statistical comparisons of more discrete groups. 
  • 2010 Census terms: Hispanic or Latino, Not Hispanic or Latino, White alone (Not Hispanic or Latino),  Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, White, Some Other Race, and Two or More Races.


The Social Support Scale is derived from the 36-item Medical Outcomes Study Social Suport Scale (Sherbourne, C and Stewart, A, 1991).  The 9 items used here measure perceived social support of various types:  

  1. Instrumental or tangible support (material aid or behavioral assistance) [1st 3 items below: blue]. 
  2. Positive social interaction support (availability of others with whom you can have fun) [4th item below: orange].
  3. Emotional support, love, and empathy (also includes encouragement to express feelings; offering advice, information, guidance, or feedback) [5th and 6th items below: green].
  4. Affectionate support (expressions of love and affection) [final 3 items below: red].

Percent of respondents who reported having each type of support “all of the time” by region, King County (2011)

In all regions and the county as a whole, adults were more likely to report always having “affectionate” support (the last 3 items) than always having “tangible” support (first 3 items). Affectionate support means having people who show you love and affection (the last three items in the table above).  Tangible support involves concrete help in times of need (helping with chores, or if you’re confined to bed or need to go to the doctor).

Social support trends:  Prior to 2011, Communities Count conducted its survey exclusively via random-digit-dial landline phone contact. Starting in 2011, Communities Count broadened its sampling method to include address-based sampling for mailed questionnaires, and added an internet response option.  The new method produced a more representative sample of the County population. Analyzing all 2011 responses (phone, mail, and internet), self-reported social support appeared to decline significantly between 2004 and 2011 – in all regions and in the County overall.  However, when the analysis of 2011 data was restricted to phone responses (making the data comparable to data from earlier years), only South region showed a signficant decline in social support.

Statistical significance: Unless otherwise noted, any difference mentioned in the text is statistically significant (unlikely to have occurred by chance).

Data Sources

Communities Count Survey (2004, 2007, 2011):  Respondents came from a random sample of all King County households.  Due to the limitations of surveys that rely exclusively on landline telephones, Communities Count used a mixed-mode survey involving both random-digit-dial phone contact and address-based sampling for mailed questionnaires, with an internet response option as well. Phone interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, and, upon request, a few additional languages. Possible limitations of this kind of survey include: (a) people who do not have a telephone or a permanent address are missed; (b) people who do not speak English or Spanish may not participate; (c) people who have less education and lower incomes tend to be under-represented.

Other Sources

Maps of King County covering a wide range of topics can be accessed at  Maps most immediately relevant to Communities Count are under the headings of Community data & demographics, Public health, and Environment & natural resources, but other maps should be useful as well (farmers markets, transit routes, walking and biking routes, parks, traffic counts, etc.).

Quotes:  Communities Count interviewed 32 King County parents or guardians raising at least one child younger than 6 years of age.  We reached out to communities of color, recent immigrants, and residents with limited English proficiency to achieve a broad range of racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity. We interviewed both families with very low household income and those who earned up to median income (about $68,000 for a family of four in 2010). Family structures included single-parent households, couples living in consensual unions, married couples, and extended families.

The Social Support scale is derived from the 36-item Medical Outcomes Study Social Support Scale [Sherbourne, C.D. and Stewart, A.L.  (1991). The MOS social support survey. Soc. Sci. Med. 32:6, pp. 705-714.