The Influence of Social Networks and Supports on Health
It has been shown that the effect of social networks and social support systems on health may be greater among immigrants who live away from their homeland and their natural social support systems. Despite the significance of social support systems, relevant research on minorities in the U.S. is limited. For this reason, the current cross-cultural study examined the pathways underlying different formations of social networks (kin vs. non-kin) and social support systems (emotional vs. instrumental), which affect depression symptoms and perceived general health among older Korean immigrants and non-Hispanic Caucasians in the United States. This analysis is based on the secondary data from the "Korean-American Elderly: Social Supports and Long-Term Care" study conducted in 1994. The data (n=424) were collected from non-Hispanic White Americans (n=201) and Korean immigrant elders (n=223) aged 65 and older residing in Southern California. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to test the proposed conceptual model designed to explain the direct and indirect relationships between social networks and social support on health outcomes. Empirical evidence from this study indicated different effect of one's social networks and social support on health by race/ethnicity. The result indicated that both kin and non-kin networks provided social support for Korean immigrants. Moreover, among social network measures, non-kin networks had a greater effect on social support for older Korean immigrants compared to kin networks. For non-Hispanic Caucasians, on the other hand, only kin network had a significant effect on social support systems. In addition, receiving instrumental support lowered the perceived general health among older non-Hispanic Caucasians. The work discussed in this paper pointed to the need to recognize the role of culture in assessing the effect of one's social networks and social support systems on health. This paper highlighted the characteristics of those older Korean-American and older non-Hispanic Caucasians who are most, as well as, least likely to benefit from social networks and social support systems. By utilizing the existing social networks and social support of diverse populations, we can improve overall health outcomes and serve the elderly community better.