Title page for ETD etd-11112009-173430

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Michel, Lacie Lin Marie
Author's Email Address lmichel@latech.edu
URN etd-11112009-173430
Title The Structure of Social Networks: Examining Gender Differences and Effects on Social Support and Psychological Distress
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Hurlbert, Jeanne S Committee Chair
Beggs, John J Committee Member
Dumais, Susan A Committee Member
Shrum, Wesley M Jr Committee Member
Lawrence, Frances C Dean's Representative
  • social networks
  • social support
  • gender
  • psychological distress
  • social resources theory
Date of Defense 2009-08-25
Availability unrestricted
Empirical research demonstrates that social networks — the aspatial social structures created through social relations — constitute a critical context that affects individuals’ health and well-being. Net of individual characteristics, social network structures can increase perceived adequacy of social support and psychological health, particularly in the aftermath of a natural disaster. However, the question of whether social contexts affect men and women differently remains largely unanswered.

This dissertation examines the effects of social structural characteristics on social network structures for both national and regional data. The General Social Survey (GSS) provides the nationally representative data on social networks; the 1985 GSS serves as the baseline measure for making comparisons with the 2004 GSS data. My comparisons provide important information regarding the structure of social networks over the past two decades and allow me to explore whether, and to what extent, the effects of structural characteristics on social networks differ between men and women. My results indicate that the effect of marital status on proportion female differs significantly between men and women in both 1985 and 2004. Further, the effect of marital status on structural density also differs significantly between men and women in 1985; it exerts a positive effect for both men and women, but demonstrates greater significance for women.

The second objective of this dissertation is to examine the effects of social networks on social support and psychological distress, within the context of a natural disaster. Social network data collected from the New Orleans metropolitan area in 2003 (pre-Katrina) act as the baseline to which to compare the 2006, post-Katrina social network data. My results indicate that in 2003, the proportion female in core networks are positively related to social support, but for women only. However, post-Katrina, network size and proportion kin significantly predicted perceived adequacy of social support, for men only. Regarding psychological distress, pre-Katrina, social support is only significant and negatively related to psychological distress for women. However, after Hurricane Katrina, social support is negatively related to psychological distress for both men and women.

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