Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Social Support System after Childbirth

Article excerpt


It is well known that women do not only need support during childbirth, but also after childbirth in the weeks and months that follow. Postnatal support is generally not just restricted to financial and practical assistance, but involves social and emotional help as well.

Cultures differ in the kind of social support that they provide. However, most analyses have concentrated on western, industrialised support systems (Cohen et al., 1985; Henderson, S. et al., 1981; Sarason, & Sarason, 1985). Only a few studies have compared different cultures or subcultures (Holahan et al. 1983; Triandis et al. 1985, 1988). Even fewer studies have carried out direct comparisons regarding one particular life event. The present study has tried to remedy this, by comparing the social support system in Korea (extended family system) with that in Scotland (nuclear family system) after one specific life event, namely after childbirth. Childbirth was chosen because it is a universal event which affects a person's physical as well as psychological state.

Social support, according to Cohen et al. (1985:4) represents the "resources provided by others". According to Fiore (1980) these resources include the following nine areas of support:

1. Socialising 2. Emotional reassurance 3. Practical help 4. Social reinforcement 5. Guidance 6. Physical comfort 7. Appreciation 8. Giving care 9. Giving advice

The nine areas of social support described by Fiore are more comprehensive than other social support assessments. These nine areas include not only the need to receive support from others (first six items), but also the need to give support to others (last three items). This idea of reciprocity has been emphasized by various authors (Dunkel-Schetter et al., 1987; Gottlieb, 1981; Rook, 1987). For example, Rook states that people are not wholly satisfied by one-way social exchanges, but need give-and-take relationships. The reciprocity is important, but so is the number of supporters and the quality and quantity of their help.

The network size, the quantity and quality of support differs in the Korean from the Scottish culture after childbirth. Korean society expects a mother to rest completely by staying in bed for the first three weeks. Infant care and household chores are taken over by relatives from either side. Members of the extended family have an obligation to offer their support owing to the strong family ties. In the initial three weeks a mother is virtually treated like a patient recovering from a serious illness. Only then will she gradually take over her former duties.

The situation of the Scottish mother is somewhat different. As soon as she arrives home from hospital, she can expect her husband's support. But during most of the day when her husband is out at work she will have to cope on her own. Relatives and friends may come to visit her, but regular, continuous help would not be expected. Thus for the present study the following hypotheses were formulated:

1. Korean mothers will have a greater support network.

2. Korean mothers will be more satisfied with the quantity and quality of support they receive.

3. In the Scottish group the husband will be the primary supporter, whereas in the Korean group the husband will play a lesser role.



A total of 157 mothers participated in the study; 105 mothers were interviewed in Seoul and Won-ju (Korea), and 52 in Glasgow (Scotland). The Korean mothers came from 7 hospitals in Korea, and the Scottish mothers from 5 clinics in Glasgow. The socio-economic and educational backgrounds of the families are displayed in Table 1.

All Korean mothers were married, 94% of the Scottish mothers were either married or living with the father of the newborn child. The large majority of the families was of middle-class background. Most of the fathers were professionals. The mothers were interviewed between the 6th and the 10th week after childbirth, using the Social Support Inventory. …


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