A Mixed Methods Approach to Understanding the Role of Social Support as a Source of Resilience for Physical Health and Well-being Among Individuals with Low SES and First-generation College Students


The overall goal of this dissertation, comprised of three empirical studies, was to examine the role of social support as a source of resilience in the face of two chronic stressors: low socioeconomic status and first-generation college student status. Study 1 of this dissertation sought to examine neighborhood support from members of one’s community and interpersonal support from close others as potential moderators of the relationship between low SES and accelerated biological aging. We found evidence for interaction effects of early-life SES and one variable, neighborhood belonging, in predicting biological aging. Study 2 sought to investigate associations between disproportionate social support and metabolic and inflammatory outcomes in a sample of parental caregivers. We found evidence for main effects of disproportionate social support, as well as interaction effects with family socioeconomic indicators, in predicting metabolic and inflammatory outcomes. Interaction effects revealed that disproportionate social support is most detrimental to inflammatory and metabolic outcomes for families with greater socioeconomic disadvantage. Study 3 sought to understand how first-generation students navigate social support demands and needs in a university setting. By thematic analysis we found six major themes: pressure and expectations, existence of barriers, lack of understanding, giving and receiving social support, solitary and independent efforts, and finding similar others. Taken together, the findings across the three studies contribute to an established literature that documents the importance of social support for physical health and well-being. We add to this literature using both quantitative and qualitative methods. The hope is that this dissertation might help to inform policy and practice efforts to improve health and resilience in the face of adversity among those who come from low SES or first-generation college student households.

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