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Does who you know in the positional hierarchy protect or hurt? Social capital, comparative reference group, and depression in two societies

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  • Song, Lijun

Abstract

Does the socioeconomic status (SES) that one's (ego's) network members (alters) occupy indicate social resources or social comparison standards in the dynamics of health across culture? Using nationally representative data simultaneously collected from the United States and urban China, this study examines two competing theories—social capital and comparative reference group—in the two societies and compares their different application across the two societies using two cultural explanations, relational dependence and self-evaluation motive. Social capital theory expects absolute accessed SES and the size of higher accessed socioeconomic positions to protect health, and the size of lower accessed socioeconomic positions to harm health. But comparative reference group theory predicts the opposite. Additionally, the relational dependence explanation anticipates social capital theory to be more applicable to urban China and comparative reference group theory to be more applicable to the United States. The self-evaluation motive explanation expects the same pattern across the two societies in the examination of the size of lower accessed socioeconomic positions but the opposite pattern in the analysis of absolute accessed SES and the size of higher accessed socioeconomic positions. This study focuses on depressive symptoms and measures accessed occupational status. Results are consistent with the self-evaluation motive explanation. They support both social capital theory and comparative reference group theory in the United States but only the latter theory in urban China.

Suggested Citation

  • Song, Lijun, 2015. "Does who you know in the positional hierarchy protect or hurt? Social capital, comparative reference group, and depression in two societies," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 136, pages 117-127.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:136-137:y:2015:i::p:117-127
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.05.012
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