Academic journal article Family Relations

African American Extended Family and Church-Based Social Network Typologies

Academic journal article Family Relations

African American Extended Family and Church-Based Social Network Typologies

Article excerpt

Extended family and church-based social networks are important resources for African Americans (Krause & Bastida, 2011; Taylor, Chatters, & Levin, 2004) because they provide social support to their members in the form of instrumental, emotional, social, and psychological assistance and resources. Among African Americans, social networks provide informal support to address personal issues such as physical and mental health problems (Cohen, Brittney, & Gottlieb, 2000; Taylor, Chae, Lincoln, & Chatters, 2015) and daily life stressors (Benin & Keith, 1995). Moreover, social support is linked to higher levels of overall well-being (Nguyen, Chatters, Taylor, & Mouzon, 2016; Smith, Cichy, & Montoro-Rodriguez, 2015) and lower rates of serious psychological distress (Gonzalez & Barnett, 2014; Taylor et al., 2015). Studies of church-based social support similarly indicate that informal social support exchanges involving congregants are extensive (Taylor et al., 2004) and protective against mental and physical illnesses (Chatters, Taylor, Woodward, & Nicklett, 2015; Krause & Bastida, 2011).

Research on family and church-based social support typically uses a variable-centered approach, which implies that the population is homogeneous and that correlates of social support operate similarly for all groups. In contrast, a person-centered approach to social support assumes that the population is heterogeneous and seeks to identify meaningful subgroups or typologies of social support. The advantages of the person-centered approach to social networks include the ability to account for the complexity of social networks (e.g., interactional and functional aspects) and to identify and confirm patterns of network characteristic profiles or types.

Using latent class analysis (a technique for person-centered analysis), we investigated the prevalence and correlates of distinct social network typologies among African American adults. These network types were derived from family and congregational network characteristics within a national sample of African American adults. Social network types are defined by constellations of social relationship and network characteristics. Research indicates that constellations of these characteristics (e.g., frequency of contact, social support, network size) that define specific social network types are predictors of mental illness (Levine, Taylor, Nguyen, Chatters, & Himle, 2015; Nguyen, Chatters, Taylor, Levine, & Himle, 2016) and thus represent risk profiles for mental illness. Information on groups that are likely to be in the most vulnerable risk profiles or network types (e.g., older, low-income men) will aid in the development of preventive interventions for these populations. Our literature review begins with a discussion of the family solidarity model, which is the theoretical framework for the present analysis. This is followed by a review of scholarship on African Americans' social networks and research on social network types.

Literature Review

Family Solidarity Model

The family solidarity model is a multidimensional model that assesses familial relations and family cohesion (Bengtson & Roberts, 1991). This model is particularly informative as a guiding theoretical framework for the present study, as it specifically conceptualizes the distinct facets of family social ties. Relationships between family members are assessed on the basis of six dimensions of behaviors, sentiments, and attitudes. A subset of these six solidarity dimensions-association, affect, and function-are the focus of this study. The association dimension relates to interactions between family members; the affect dimension assesses intimacy, or subjective closeness, between family members; and the function dimension examines exchanges of social support between family members. The model also accounts for negative interactions with family members. An elaboration of the family solidarity model, called the solidarity-conflict model (Bengtson, Giarrusso, Mabry, & Silverstein, 2002), acknowledges that conflict and negative interactions are normative aspects of familial relations and simultaneously exist with positive sentiments and behaviors. …

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