This study examined the buffering effect of social support by identifying the most important life event experienced by an individual and by tracing the characteristics of the person who helped during and/or after the event. Using the social resources theory, we operationalized social support in terms of the strength of social ties and homophily of characteristics between ego and the helper. Hypotheses were constructed to test whether one life event considered most important and undesirable by the individual could adequately represent the stressors-illness relationship. We found that individuals showed an increased level of depressive symptoms if they experienced a most important and undesirable event, but that the effect was reduced when help came from strong (rather than weak) ties. For those who had just experienced marital disruption (recently separated or widowed), however, help, regardless of its source, was not as valuable. Similarities in age and education between respondent and helper lowered the married respondents' depressive symptoms, and similarity of occupational status affected the unmarried in the same way. We discussed the implications of these findings for defining and operationalizing social support for the study of buffering effects and the significance of marital disengagement on the support system.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/stephen_light/6/