Gender differences in the exchange of social support with friends, neighbors, and co-workers at midlife

Carolyn A. Liebler, Gary D. Sandefur

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98 Scopus citations


People have always relied on their friends, neighbors, and co-workers 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% 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)364-391
Number of pages28
JournalSocial Science Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank John Robert Warren, Robert D. Mare, Scott Eliason, Hyunjoon Park, Robert M. Hauser, Katherine Stovel, and our anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on drafts of this paper. This research was supported by R03 AG14872 from the National Institute on Aging and by a training grant from the National Institute on Aging. The Wisconsin Longitudinal Study data are available to the public at .


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