Perceived Social Support from Different Sources and Adolescent Life Satisfaction Across 42 Countries/Regions: The Moderating Role of National-Level Generalized Trust

Background

Perceived social support from different sources (i.e., family, teachers, classmates, and friends) is beneficial for adolescent well-being (Chu et al., 2010). It protects adolescents from internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, and loneliness; Cavanaugh & Buehler, 2016; Rueger et al., 2016) and promotes positive feelings (e.g., hope, well-being, and security; Archer et al., 2019; Chu et al., 2010). Although previous research established a positive association between perceived social support and adolescent life satisfaction, little is known about the relative importance of different sources of support for adolescent life satisfaction, and cross-country variations in this respect. This study examined to what extent the association between social support and life satisfaction in early adolescence varied across different social sources and countries. Also, it examined whether cross-country variations are explained by national-level generalized trust, a sociocultural factor that shapes adolescent socialization.

Method

Individual-level data (e.g., perceived social support and life satisfaction) were obtained from the 2017/18 Health Behaviour in School aged Children (HBSC) study, including  183,918 early adolescents (Mage = 13.56, SD = 1.63, 52% girls) from 42 different countries/regions. National-level data (e.g., national-level trust) were obtained from internationality authoritative online sources (e.g., the Global Trust Research Consortium).

Results

Multilevel regression analyses yielded a positive association between perceived social support and life satisfaction. The strength of the association between perceived social support and life satisfaction varied across the four primary social sources. For the majority of countries/regions, the strongest positive associations were found for support from families, followed by teachers and classmates, and the weakest for support from friends. Moreover, the associations between each source of support and life satisfaction varied across countries/regions. National-level trust amplified the association between perceived classmate support and life satisfaction.

Conclusion

This study testified that the association between perceived social support and adolescent life satisfaction was positive. Moreover, this positive association was found to differ across four primary social sources (i.e., family, teachers, classmates, and friends), and also to vary across countries/regions. For early adolescents, in most countries, perceived support from families was more strongly associated with their life satisfaction, than perceived support from the other three social sources. In addition, the benefit of perceived classmate support for adolescent life satisfaction was amplified in countries with higher national levels of trust. This study stresses the importance of perceived support from different social sources, especially from family, in adolescent life satisfaction. The revealed cross-country differences open avenues for future cross-cultural research on explanations for those cross-cultural differences in the association between perceived social support and life satisfaction in early adolescence.

Contact: s.bi@uu.nl

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