Human Nature

, Volume 22, Issue 1–2, pp 108–127 | Cite as

The Place of Proximity

Social Support in Mother–Adult Daughter Relationships
  • Brooke A. ScelzaEmail author


The mother–adult daughter relationship has been highlighted in both the social sciences and the public health literature as an important facet of social support networks, particularly as they pertain to maternal and child health. Evolutionary anthropologists also have shown positive associations between support from maternal grandmothers and various outcomes related to reproductive success; however, many of these studies rely on proximity as a surrogate measure of support. Here I present data from the Puerto Rican Maternal and Infant Health Survey (PRMIHS) comparing geographic proximity of mother and daughter with a self-reported measure of mother-to-daughter support. These two measures were used to predict infant health outcomes as well as various measures of instrumental and emotional aid provided during pregnancy and after birth. Primary support was shown to have a positive effect across the analyses, whereas geographic proximity was associated with an increased risk of infant mortality and low birth weight as well as reduced odds of receiving support. This paradox was then examined using a combination variable that teased out the interactions of maternal support and proximity. Women who were geographically close to their mothers but who did not consider them a primary source of support had increased odds of infant death and low birth weight, and were less likely to receive either tangible or intangible forms of aid, while women whose mothers were both close and primary showed uniformly positive outcomes. These results place the role of propinquity within the larger context of social support and highlight the need for more detailed studies of social support within evolutionary anthropology.


Human behavioral ecology Parental investment Social support 



I am very grateful to Nancy Landale (Penn State University), R. S. Oropesa (Penn State University), and Ana Luisa Davila (U. Puerto Rico) for granting me access to the PRMIHS database. Mary Shenk and Siobhan Mattison organized the 2009 American Anthropological Association session from which this issue is derived. Joan Silk, Karthik Panachanathan, members of the UCLA Experimental Biological Anthropology (XBA) lab group, and four anonymous reviewers provided many helpful comments on my analyses and early drafts.


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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCLA Department of AnthropologyLos AngelesUSA

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