Survey Variable: Social Network Strength

As noted elsewhere, social capital has many components: the size of your social network, its level of interaction, its homogeneity, and the statuses of the people within it. An additional key component, and the last one we consider, is the strength of the network. One indicator this is the amount of help that people within them give each other. This is the last facet of social capital that the survey asked about, and it did so in a detailed fashion. Respondents were asked whether they had ever received thirteen different types of help from each of the following five groups: a partner, family, friends, family friends, and colleagues. The thirteen types of help were: reviewing a CV, offering career advice, looking for jobs, using contacts to get a job or work experience, putting in a good word with a potential employer, offering a job, giving financial support whilst a student, giving financial support whilst unemployed, giving an emergency loan, giving finance for buying a house; assisting with moving house; assisting with childcare, and supporting in a crisis.[1] Because the question asked about so many types of help, across five different sets of social connections, Figure 1 (above, using weighted data) shows the number of types of help received from each group.[2]

Surprisingly, almost half of people (47.6%) indicate that they have never received any of the types of help from a partner (panel A). Many of these may be people who have not had a recent or long-term relationship in which such help could be asked for. It may also reflect the fact that many of the types of help that are asked about (e.g., with buying a house, childcare, support in a crisis) are part and parcel of being in a long-term relationship, so some people might not have considered their partner to have ‘helped’ them in these ways. Additionally, it might be the case that people in long-term relationships consider their partner to be family and include them in their answers for that group. Indeed, only around one in seven people (14.5%) report receiving no forms of help from their family, and comfortably more than half (56.5%) indicate having received three or more forms of help from family members. The distribution for help received from friends (panel C) falls between those for family and a partner. More than a quarter of people (27.5%) have never received any of the types of help from friends, but more than half (51.9%) have received two or more types. It is much rarer for people to receive help from family friends (panel D) or colleagues (panel E). More than seven in ten (72.1%) have never received help from the former, and more than six in ten (63.3%) have never received help from the latter. The less widespread nature of help received from these groups may indicate that it is a particularly valuable (additional) form of social capital, linking to the importance of weak social ties.

To get an idea of the overall strength of people’s social networks, we average the number of forms of help that they have received from the five groups. As Figure 2 (below, also using weighted data) shows, a plurality of just over a third of people (34.3%) receive an average of one form of help from each network, and a majority (52.1%) receive one form or no help on average. Of course, this also means that almost half (47.9%) receive two or more forms of help on average, and more than four in five (82.2%) receive at least one. Overall, then, people tend to receive minimal or moderate help their social networks, but these low average figures disguise the extensive help received from family and friends, with the average being brought down by the relative rarity of help received from family friends, colleagues and, to a lesser extent, partners. By this measure at least, family and friendship networks are stronger, with people tending to draw on help from closer ties rather than weaker collegial and family friendship ones.

Figure 2. See also Table A2.

Related to but distinct from help received in the past are perceptions of the help that one might expect to receive in the future, and the survey also asked about this. Figure 3 (below, using weighted data) shows how likely people feel they would be to get help if they asked for it (panel A).[3] Almost half of people (49.6%) think that they would be very likely to get help, and more than nine in ten (91.7%) think that they would be likely or very likely. In other words, most people perceive their social networks to be strong in the sense that they can rely on receiving help when it is needed. These strong social networks offer more help to those who are willing to ask for it, and two thirds of people (66.7%) indicate that they would definitely or probably ask for help if they needed it (panel B). Still, that leaves a third of people (33.3%) who probably or definitely would not ask for help, even if it was needed, meaning that the strength of their social networks remains unrealised.

Variable namessc_hr_searchjob_1_b, sc_hr_searchjob_2_b,
sc_hr_searchjob_3_b, sc_hr_searchjob_4_b,
sc_hr_searchjob_5_b, sc_hr_contactjob_1_b,
sc_hr_contactjob_2_b, sc_hr_contactjob_3_b,
sc_hr_contactjob_4_b, sc_hr_contactjob_5_b,
sc_hr_goodwordjob_1_b, sc_hr_goodwordjob_2_b,
sc_hr_goodwordjob_3_b, sc_hr_goodwordjob_4_b,
sc_hr_goodwordjob_5_b, sc_hr_offerjob_1_b,
sc_hr_offerjob_2_b, sc_hr_offerjob_3_b,
sc_hr_offerjob_4_b, sc_hr_offerjob_5_b,
sc_hr_studsupp_1_b, sc_hr_studsupp_2_b,
sc_hr_studsupp_3_b, sc_hr_studsupp_4_b,
sc_hr_studsupp_5_b, sc_hr_unempsupp_1_b,
sc_hr_unempsupp_2_b, sc_hr_unempsupp_3_b,
sc_hr_unempsupp_4_b, sc_hr_unempsupp_5_b,
sc_hr_loan_1_b, sc_hr_loan_2_b, sc_hr_loan_3_b,
sc_hr_loan_4_b, sc_hr_loan_5_b, sc_hr_buyhous_1_b,
sc_hr_buyhous_2_b, sc_hr_buyhous_3_b,
sc_hr_buyhous_4_b, sc_hr_buyhous_5_b,
sc_hr_movhous_1_b, sc_hr_movhous_2_b,
sc_hr_movhous_3_b, sc_hr_movhous_4_b,
sc_hr_movhous_5_b, sc_hr_childcare_1_b,
sc_hr_childcare_2_b, sc_hr_childcare_3_b,
sc_hr_childcare_4_b, sc_hr_childcare_5_b,
sc_hr_crisissupp_1_b, sc_hr_crisissupp_2_b,
sc_hr_crisissupp_3_b, sc_hr_crisissupp_4_b,
sc_hr_crisissupp_5_b, sc_helpwouldget,
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories2
Categories to code as missingNone
Cases to code as missingNone
Recoded variable namesc_hrpart_count, sc_hrfam_count,
sc_hrfriend_count, sc_hrfamfr_count,
sc_hrcoll_count, sc_hr_ave
Number of cases1,405
Number of categories14
New and old categoriesCategory 1 (‘Yes’) on each of the original
variables was counted as 1 (i.e. indicating
that the type of help has been received
from the group), with category 0 (‘No’)
counted as zero. As such, 0 on the
new variable indicates that none of the
types of help have been received from
that group, whilst 13 indicates that all
of the types of help have been received
from that group.

For the average variable, a row average
of the new variables was taken, utilising
whichever of the answers had been
provided in relation to help received
from a partner, family, friends, family
friends, and colleages had been provided.

The variables relating to perceived
likelihhod of receiving help if it is asked
for (sc_helpwouldget) and likelihood of
asking for help if needed (sc_helpwouldask)
required no recoding.
Details of the original and recoded help received from social networks variables.

[1] Respondents with below degree-level education were not asked whether they had received financial support as a student, respondents who do not own a property were not asked whether they had received help to buy a house, and respondents with no children in their household were not asked whether they had received help with childcare. These groups respondents were coded as not having received the respective forms of help.

[2] See also Table A1.

[3] See also Table A3A and Table A3B.

Published by joegreenwoodhau

Joe Greenwood-Hau is a Lecturer in Politics in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, where his teaching focuses on Introduction to Political Data Analaysis and he is wrapping up the Capital, Privilege and Political Participation in Britain and Beyond project.

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