Skip to main content
Log in

An examination of sex differences in social support among older men and women

  • Published:
Sex Roles Aims and scope Submit manuscript


This paper is designed to empirically investigate sex differences in social support. Several types of sex differences are examined, including quantity and quality of support, the relationship between quantitative and qualitative measures of support, the number and source of support provided and received, and the relative predictive power of quality and quantity of support on well-being. The data are taken from the Supports of the Elderly, a national survey of older people (Kahn and Antonucci, 1984). Included in the present study are 214 men and 166 women ranging in age from 50 to 95 who are married and have at least one child. The analyses reveal that women have larger networks and receive supports from multiple sources, while men tend to rely on their spouses exclusively. Men report greater satisfaction with marriage than women. Quantitative supports are more related to qualitative supports for women than for men. For both sexes, the quality of support rather than the quantity of support has significantly greater effects on well-being; both the quantity and quality of social support have a greater impact on the well-being of women compared to men.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Antonucci, T. C., & Akiyama, H. Social networks in adult life and a preliminary examination of the convoy model. Journal of Gerontology, 1987, 42(5), 519–527.

    Google Scholar 

  • Babchuk, N. Aging and primary relations. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 1978–1979, 9(2), 186–204.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bernard, J. The future of marriage. New York: World Publishing Company, 1972.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burda, P. C. Jr., Vaux, A., & Schill, T. Social support resources: variation across sex and sex role. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1984, 10,(1), 119–126.

    Google Scholar 

  • Butler, T., Giordano, S., & Neren, S. Gender and sex-role attributes as predictors of utilization of natural support systems during personal stress events. Sex Roles, 1985, 13(9/10), 515–524.

    Google Scholar 

  • Campbell, A. A sense of well-being in America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.

    Google Scholar 

  • Depner, C. E, & Ingersoll-Dayton, B. Conjugal social support: Patterns in later life. Journal of Gerontology, 1985, 40(6), 761–766.

    Google Scholar 

  • Griffith, J. Social support providers: Who are they? Where are they met? And the relationship of network characteristics to psychological distress. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 1985, 6(1), 41–60.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harris, L. The myth and reality of aging in America. Washington, D.C.: The National Council on Aging, 1975.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kahn, R. L., & Antonucci, T. C. Social supports of the elderly: Family/friends/professionals. Final report to the National Institute on Aging, No. #AG01632, 1984.

  • Kessler, R. C., McLeod, J. D., & Wethington, E. The costs of caring: A perspective on the relationships between sex and psychological distress. In I. G. Sarason & B. R. Sarason (Eds.), Social support: Theory, research and applications. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1985.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leavy, R. L. Social support and psychological disorder: A review. Journal of Community Psychology, 1983, 11, 13–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Levitt, M. J., Antonucci, T. C., Clark, M. C., Rotton, J., & Finley, G. E. Social support and well-being: Preliminary indicators based on two samples of the elderly. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 1985–86, 21(1), 61–77.

    Google Scholar 

  • Longino, C. F., Jr., & Lipman, A. The married, the formerly married and the never married: Support system differentials of older women in planned retirement communities. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 1982, 15(4), 285–297.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lowenthal, M. F., & Haven, C. Interaction and adaptation: Intimacy as a critical variable. American Sociological Review, 1968, 33, 20–30.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. The psychology of sex differences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sarason, I. G., Levine, H. M., Basham, R. B., & Sarason, B. R. Assessing social support: The Social Support Questionnaire. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1983, 44, 127–139.

    Google Scholar 

  • Troll, L. E. Family issues in current gerontology. Gerontological Society of America: Springer Publishing Company, in press.

  • Vaux, A. Variations in social support associated with gender, ethnicity, and age. Journal of Social issues, 1985, 41(1), 89–110.

    Google Scholar 

  • Veroff, J., Douvan, E., & Kulka, R. The inner American. New York: Basic Books, 1981.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

Preparation of this paper was supported in part by Grant #AG01632 and by a Research Career Development Award to the senior author (#AG00271) from the National Institutes on Aging. Dr. Akiyama was supported by AG00117, a Research Training Grant from the National Institutes on Aging. The authors would like to express their thanks to Sue Meyer for help in the preparation of this manuscript; to Halimah Hassan for assistance with data analyses; and to Anita DeLongis for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.

The data computation upon which this paper is based employed the OSIRIS IV computer software package, which was developed by the Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, using funds from the Survey Research Center, Inter-University Consortium for Political Research, National Science Foundation, and other sources.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Antonucci, T.C., Akiyama, H. An examination of sex differences in social support among older men and women. Sex Roles 17, 737–749 (1987).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: