Toward a Contextually Valid Measure of Social Support Among Middle-Aged and Older African Americans in a Southern Urban Community


  • Dawn Bodo Lehman Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging



A gap in the literature on social support among middle-aged and older African Americans and limitations in scales measuring social support among this group indicate a need for a new measure of social support that is sensitive to the cultural context in which this population lives. The literature indicates that social support is a multidimensional, fluid phenomenon, i.e., it has many dimensions and each dimension may have significance for individuals and communities at different periods in time and in different geographical locations. The specific goals of this research were to (1) identify the domains and dimensions of support among middle-aged and older African Americans, ages 38 to 65, that potentially moderate the effects of psychosocial factors on health outcomes; (2) use the research findings to construct a new, contextually valid scale that measures social support among this population in a southern urban community; and (3) document the methodological process by which the first two goals were achieved. The iterative research process consisted of thirty-one methodological steps in nine phases over a four-year period. Six sets of data obtained from a content analysis of popular magazines, five types of interviews, a semi-structured questionnaire, a visual assessment of the community, and participant observation were analyzed for recurrent themes associated with social support. The findings were used to construct scale items that reflect culturally-relevant domains and dimensions of social support that are not typically assessed in traditional scales.

Author Biography

Dawn Bodo Lehman, Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging

Director of Education