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Elyse Kovalsky: The Provision of Social Support: Linking Social Networks and Immigrant Health

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Feb 01, 2013
from 01:00 PM to 02:00 PM



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Persistent patterns in health, including the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and health as well as exceptions such as the Latino health paradox, require the identification and testing of explanatory social mechanisms. One set of mechanisms affecting these patterns operate through social networks, whose impacts on health require further elaboration. Researchers interested in these connections have focused on factors such as social integration and the types of social support received. I propose a mechanism linking social networks to health behaviors and outcomes that operates through the pathway of social support provision. This research is based on 40 interviews with Latino men and women living with type 2 diabetes, most of whom are immigrants to the U.S. Drawing on detailed narratives describing their experiences living with diabetes, I identify a mechanism that works against the SES gradient in health, specifically among a subset of participants with low levels of education and good diabetes health management. Providing support to others appears to have protective effects on health. “Key providers” of support, including many of the immigrant parents in the study, develop a sense of responsibility and control related to their health, manifesting as social role-based effectiveness and functioning as an alternative pathway to improved health. This mechanism warrants further investigation as one potential contributor to the Latino health paradox and as a social process that may mitigate health disparities.

Discussants: Cassie Hartzog and Erin Hamilton

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