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Relational Resources of Individuals Living in Couple: Evidence from an Italian Survey

Abstract

The need for support becomes stronger in situations of pressure, uncertainty and overload caused by unfavorable economic, demographic or social circumstances. Especially in countries—such as Italy—where an adequate welfare system is lacking, the individual’s social space can represent a resilience (anti-frailty) tool through the activation of a support network. While the literature has mainly analyzed the support that some vulnerable categories (e.g., elderly and youths) receive from their family, we focus on individuals living in Italy in the first stages of their family life, with the aim of describing their support network. We construct the potential support ego-centered (PSE) network—at partner and couple level—of individuals living in couple using data from the survey “Family and Social Subjects” carried out in Italy in 2009 by the Italian National Statistical Institute. Furthermore, we compare the network typologies detected using two alternative clustering techniques with the objective of finding the partners’ and couples’ network types and verifying whether traditional strong support received by the family persists in Italy and/or whether new kinds of support networks are emerging. Several PSE network typologies, ranging from empty to comprehensive networks, were determined with a fair match between the two procedures. Analysis revealed the importance of friends and neighbors, especially in the North of Italy, to the support of partners and couple as a whole.

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Notes

  1. This does not introduce a limitation, since the percentage of people who are other members in the data set is low (see, e.g., Gabrielli and Meggiolaro 2015). For example, the 2011 Italian population census showed that the mononuclear households without other members are the 96 % of the total households composed of couples with or without children.

  2. We considered individuals in the same age range because we focused on partners “at par” with respect to potential relational (mainly instrumental) resources they can access to in that phase of life course (mainly family and working conditions). In this case, we treated age as an indicator of comparable conditions among partners in their social space and life context.

  3. The answer categories are: everyday, some times a week, once a week, some times a month but less than 4, some times a year, never.

  4. The answer categories are: in another apartment of the same building, in the same municipality, in another municipality of Italy—less than 16 km, from 16 to 50 km, more than 50 km, abroad.

  5. As in Amati et al. (2015), the available data did not investigate the potential role of co-resident people as source of support.

  6. We defined a binary variable to code the presence (1) and the absence (0) of a certain alter category in the PSE-network. For instance, the alter category “parents” was coded as 1 if a respondent declared to have contact at least once a week with at least one not-cohabiting parent living no farther than 16 km even in a different municipality. Otherwise, the code is set to 0. If this condition was verified for one parent (both), it added a value of one (two) in the resulting PSE-network size.

  7. The age of (cohabiting and not-cohabiting) children among couples with partners aged 18–34 years ranged between 0 and 16 with mean age of 3.4 and standard deviation 3.2. The age of (cohabiting and not-cohabiting) children among couples with partners aged 35–44 years ranged between 0 and 25 with mean age of 8.5 and SD 5. Only 5 % of couples aged 35–44 had cohabiting children older than 18 years old. This percentage decreased to the 1 % if we accounted only for the not-cohabiting children older than 18 years old.

  8. During the past 12 months, less than the 1 % of individuals in couples in both age groups (18–34 and 35–44 years) received “non-health benefits or house assistance benefits from the Municipality or cooperative” or “health benefits at home, from an LHU (Local Health Unit) or cooperative”. Less than 2 % of individuals in couples in the 35–44 age group received economic support from Municipality or charitable institution, but the 4.8 and 3.1 % of individuals in the couples in the 18-34 age group received this type of support, respectively, from Municipality and other public body. Conversely, the 99.5 % of them received economic support from private body (mainly kin).

  9. Ongaro and Mazzucco (2009), for instance, studied intentions and attitudes towards family life of young people aged 18–34 years as individuals at the beginning of their union formation.

  10. The questions related to the presence of relatives to whom a person “can rely on” distinguished between several types of relatives gathered from the viewpoint of the respondent. In particular, there were specific questions referring to parents-in-law, brothers-in-law and sister-in-law. Therefore, parents and siblings were enumerated only once when computing the number of potential people in the couple PSE-network. However, the number of relatives might be overestimated because of the question: “Are there other relatives on whom you can rely on?”. The number of friends may be also overestimated since partners can have mutual friends.

  11. Hereafter, we refer to the ADDATI’s procedure simply by using the name of the software. The classification process is implemented in ADDAWIN package which can be downloaded from the following link: http://circe.iuav.it/~silvio/addawin_site/addawin_en.html.

  12. The analysis based on a TwoStep algorithm is performed with the SPSS software.

  13. The silhouette index (Rousseeuw 1987) varies between −1 and 1. It takes value 1 when the inertia within group is 0, i.e., when the units are well-clustered, and value −1 when the between inertia is close to 0, i.e., the units are misclassified. The value 0 represents an intermediate clustering solution.

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Correspondence to Giulia Rivellini.

Appendices

Appendix 1

The first six rows of each table contain the percentage distribution of the presence of the different alters in each cluster (referred to as cluster profile), whereas the latter the percentage distribution computed on the entire sample (referred to as sample profile). The name of the PSE-network typology is determined comparing the cluster profiles with the sample profile.

For instance, if we focus on men aged 18–34, Cluster 1 is characterized by a profile where all the PSE-networks always include at least one parent, one sibling and one neighbor (100 %), and in very high proportions, at least one other relative (90.8 %) and one friend (92.8 %). These percentages are higher than those in the sample profile, consequently, the PSE-networks belonging to this group almost always include all the alter categories and was labelled as Comprehensive PSE-network. In contrast, Cluster 3 comprises of PSE-networks never including parents (0 %), consisting of at least one sibling for only 2.2 %, at least one other relative for 3.3 %, friends for 49.5 % and neighbors for 35.2 %. These percentages are lower than those in the sample profile and suggest that the PSE-networks belonging to this group rarely include any of the alter categories. As a result, we labeled this group as Limited PSE-network. In a similar way we derived all the other PSE-network typologies. The following explains the labeling of each group of PSE-networks. Table 6 shows the results for the ADDATI procedure, Table 7 shows the results for the Two-step method.

Table 6 Proportion of presence of each alter for each cluster and in the entire sample for the ADDATI procedure
Table 7 Proportion of presence of each alter for each cluster and in the entire sample for the TwoStep procedure

Appendix 2

Table 8 ADDATI percentage distribution of PSE-network typologies by socio-demographic characteristics of individuals
Table 9 Two-step percentage distribution of PSE-network typologies by socio-demographic characteristics of individuals

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Amati, V., Meggiolaro, S., Rivellini, G. et al. Relational Resources of Individuals Living in Couple: Evidence from an Italian Survey. Soc Indic Res 134, 547–590 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-016-1443-x

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Keywords

  • Social support
  • Ego-centered support network
  • Italian couples
  • Clustering techniques
  • Potential support ego-centered network typologies