Effects of Sex, Culture, and Support Type on Perceptions of Spousal Social Support: An Assessment of the “Support Gap” Hypothesis in Early Marriage

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Abstract

Several writers have suggested that a “support gap” characterizes modern marriages, with women receiving less support from their spouses than men receive from theirs. Although this support gap hypothesis (SGH) is used increasingly to explain marital interaction and satisfaction, there have been few rigorous evaluations of this hypothesis. In particular, existing research on the support gap has not systematically considered (a) different types of social support; (b) differences in provided vs. received support; (c) differences in reported levels of support desire, experience, and satisfaction; or (d) differences in distinct cultural groups with respect to social support in marriage. The present study provided a multidimensional assessment of desired and experienced spousal social support. Participants were recently married men and women (100 Americans and 102 Chinese) who completed questionnaires providing assessments of desired and experienced levels of spousal support for each of 5 support types. Men and women did not differ systematically with respect to the levels of support they experienced from their spouses; however, women reported desiring significantly higher levels of support from their spouses than did men for all 5 types of support. Evaluation of support satisfaction indicated that both American and Chinese women experience gaps with respect to emotional and esteem support; Chinese women additionally experience a gap in network support. These results specify the nature of marital support gaps much more precisely than previous work and suggest several issues to be addressed in future work.

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