Family and Social Support Measurement Strategies

Studies in recent years have measured support by type, provider, and timing. Types of support, including companionship, emotional, tangible, and informational, can be categorized as perceived or received. Perceived support is shown to correlate with mental and social health as well as with length and quality of life [1]. Perceived support can be described as the "safety net" feeling that when something goes wrong individuals can get the support they need. Received support is defined as the reported receipt of services and can be divided into informational, financial, emotional, belonging, or tangible support with specific measures developed to quantify each of these.

Indirect support measures include living arrangements, availability of confidants, divorce or suicide rates, substantiated rates of child abuse or neglect, percentage of families who eat dinner together, parents who read to their children, volunteer rates, voter registration, percentage who read the newspaper, or percent of the population belonging to clubs or organizations such as bowling leagues, faith based organizations, and civic groups [2-4].

The U.S. Census and American Community Survey collect data on household structures. Using these data, researchers can estimate the percent of children living in single-parent households or adults living alone, which serve as proxy measures of support. Other specific research groups have created measures of social capital which include measures of disconnectedness, isolation, whether basic individual needs are met, indicators of neighborhood trust, and adherence to civic norms [5]. The General Social Survey (GSS) has been used to assess social isolation. Other tools such as the Social Capital Assessment mapping tool and the Social Capital Benchmark Survey have been developed to measure support at the household, community, and organizational levels.


[1] Uchino BN. Understanding the Links Between Social Support and Physical Health A Life-Span Perspective With Emphasis on the Separability of Perceived and Received Support. Association for Psychological Science 2009;4(3):236-255.
[2] Grenade L, Boldy D. Social isolation and loneliness among older people: Issues and future challenges in community and residential settings. Aust Health Rev 2008;32:468-478.
[3] Procidano, M., & Heller, K. (1983). Measures of perceived social support from friends and from family. American Journal of Community Psychology, 11, 1-24.
[4] Wills, T. A., & Cleary, S. D. (1996). How are social support effects mediated? A test with parental support and adolescent substance use. Journal of personality and social psychology, 71(5), 937.
[5] Putnam, Robert D. "Tuning in, tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America." PS: Political Science & Politics 28.04 (1995): 664-683.