Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Social Support and Youths' Resilience in Disadvantaged Neighborhood Contexts

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Eric Dubow (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Matthew Lavery (Other)


Adolescents living in disadvantaged neighborhood contexts experience higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems. Although social support promotes resilience in youth exposed to neighborhood stressors, few studies have considered both perceived quality and time exposure to support sources when investigating social support effects within neighborhood contexts. Additionally, the literature primarily focuses on the effects of perceived friend and parental support, whereas no studies have examined the role of peer-age relatives, such as siblings or cousins, on youths’ behavioral outcomes. This study investigated relationships between perceptions of social support quality, time exposure to sources of support, experiences of neighborhood social processes, and emotional and behavioral health for adolescents recruited from low-income, inner-city neighborhoods. The final sample included 54 adolescents aged 11 to 18 years (43% female) who completed interviews involving detailed time diaries of their routine activities. Time diaries were coded to calculate the percentage of out-of-school wake time that adolescents spent alone and with adult and peer-age relatives and nonfamilial peers. Adolescents also completed self-report questionnaires about their perceived family and friend support, aggressive behaviors, depressive symptoms, and psychological well-being. Bivariate correlations and hierarchical multiple regressions were used to explore relationships among the perceived social support, social exposure, and behavioral health variables. Hierarchical multiple regressions were also used to determine whether neighborhood collective efficacy moderated the effects of perceived social support and social exposure on youths’ behavioral outcomes.

The overall pattern of findings supported that adolescents who spend more time around adult relatives report fewer depressive symptoms, regardless of their perceptions of the quality of their family support. Alternatively, adolescents’ perceived friend support was related to less aggression when participants spent more time with peers outside of school, but perceived friend support was not related to behavior for adolescents who spent less time around their peers. Exposure to peer-age relatives was not significantly related to perceived family or friend support, suggesting that peer-age relatives may be a distinct source of support that should be assessed separately to understand their unique influence on adolescents’ behavioral health. This paper discusses these findings in detail and addresses implications for research, intervention, and policy.