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Although Americans have faced waves of social, technological and economic disruption over the last few decades, a new study indicates that their perceptions of available social support have remained steady and, in some cases, may even be strengthening.
In a study that examined data that spans nearly two decades, survey respondents reported that their access to help from friends and family—a key measure of social support—has increased slightly over time, said Ashton Verdery, assistant professor of sociology, demography and social data analytics at Penn State and an affiliate of the Institute for CyberScience. He added that some previous studies had painted a bleak picture of the future of social ties in the country, predicting a dramatic loss of community.
Changes - Society - Time - Sort - Change
"There have been huge changes in society over time that would make us expect some sort of change, but one of the surprising things is that despite the rise of the internet, despite the decline in labor unions, and despite the number of social institutions that are waning, there is so little change," said Verdery. "It's also not crazy to think that family breakups, the rise of divorce, and new compositions of families would lead to massive changes, but the results in our paper—and other researchers' work—don't show that."
The researchers found that in 1993 about 42 percent of respondents in a survey reported that they could rely on their family for help. In 2011, that number had increased to 46 percent. About 26 percent of respondents reported in 1993 that they could rely on friends for all needed assistance, which increased to 34 percent in 2011.
Support - Trends - Situation - Minority - Groups
While the national support trends are relatively stable, the situation for some minority groups in the country may be improving slightly, added Verdery, who worked with Colin Campbell, assistant professor of sociology at East Carolina University.
"As minority groups,...
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