Social Relationships and Aid in Modern Societies
This comparative project investigates how individuals are embedded in both kin and non-kin social networks, and contrasts the assistance such social networks provide (in Austria, England, Hungary, Italy, West Germany and the US) with what other providers of welfare offer. Using ISSP network data, the results of the empirical investigation indicate that individual network members differ in their significance as helpers. Gradations exist particularly with respect to the origin or source of the relationship as well as the closeness of the kin relationship, but also in terms of physical proximity and the intensity of relations to network members outside the household. Against assumptions of a marked weakening in the potential aid family members might provide, the most important and "universal" helper identified was the partner living in the household. If this central reference person is unavailable, then the significance of other network members as aid providers, particularly when they are close relatives, increases. In this context, though the social network is differently composed and hence provides different access to informal assistance, it does not necessarily represent a different potential source of aid. The international comparison reveals strong similarity in the patterns of social relations as well as the use when aid is needed. All countries show a similar "hierarchy of responsibilities" for particular types of assistance, and they are in addition modified in the same manner through the composition of the social network. There are extensive commonalties across the countries examined, though both Italy and Hungary deviate in specific respects from it. Thus, though cohabitation with persons who are extended kin is more common in these two countries, the partner one lives with is mentioned less frequently here as helper.