Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 176–186 | Cite as

Social Support, Economic Hardship and Psychological Distress in Spanish and Portuguese At-Risk Families

  • Lara Ayala-Nunes
  • Lucía Jiménez
  • Saul Jesus
  • Victoria Hidalgo
Original Paper


Individuals with low socioeconomic status generally have worse mental health outcomes than their wealthier counterparts; a tendency that is exacerbated during financial crises. However, social support might buffer the effects of stress on mental health. In this study, we tested whether social support mitigated the effects of economic hardship on psychological distress on an at-risk sample from two of the European countries most affected by the 2008 economic downturn: Spain and Portugal. Participants were 249 caregivers enrolled in Child Welfare Services (73.0% women). Results showed that economic hardship and a negative indicator of social support (network dysfunctionality) were significant predictors of belonging to the psychological distress clinical group (OR: 2.35 and 1.80, respectively). However, no significant interaction effects were observed, thereby refuting the buffering effect hypothesis. When we conducted an in depth analysis of the clinical group, a significant moderation effect emerged. Our results suggest that, for at-risk populations, the detrimental effects of dysfunctional networks on mental health can outweigh the benefits of positive assistance and that social support is a potential stress buffer only for individuals in the clinical spectrum. These findings indicate that the protective effect of social support during circumstances of intense economic adversity is limited.


Social support Economic hardship Psychological distress Mental health Financial crisis 



This study was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; Grant SFRH/BD/86172/2012) with co-financing of the European Social Fund (POPH/ FSE), the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) through national funds.

Author Contributions

L.A.N.: designed and executed the study, analyzed the data, and wrote the paper. L.J.: collaborated with the design, assisted with the data analyses and writing of the study; S.N.: collaborated in the writing and editing of the final manuscript; V.H.: collaborated with the design and writing of the study as well as the editing of the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lara Ayala-Nunes
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lucía Jiménez
    • 1
  • Saul Jesus
    • 2
  • Victoria Hidalgo
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Developmental and Educational PsychologyUniversity of SevilleSevilleSpain
  2. 2.Research Centre for Spatial and Organizational Dynamics, University of AlgarveFaroPortugal

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