Purpose: Although the protective effect of social support against depression is well known, limited information exists on racial differences in this association. The current study examined Black-White differences in the effects of religious and secular emotional social support on depressive symptoms in a national sample of older adults in the United States. Methods: With a longitudinal prospective design, the Religion, Aging and Health Survey, 2001–2004, followed 1493 Black (n = 734) and White (n = 759) elderly individuals (age 66 and older) for three years. Race, demographics (age and gender), socio-economics (education and marital status) and frequency of church attendance were measured at baseline in 2001. Secular social support, religious social support, chronic medical conditions and depressive symptoms [8- item Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression scale (CES-D)] were measured in 2004. Multiple linear regression models were used for data analysis. Results: In the pooled sample, secular and religious social support were both protective against depressive symptoms, net of all covariates. Race interacted with secular (β = −0.62 for interaction) and religious (β = −0.21 for interaction) social support on baseline depressive symptoms (p < 0.05 for both interactions), suggesting larger protections for Blacks compared to Whites. In race-specific models, the regression weight for the effect of secular social support on depressive symptoms was larger for Blacks (β = −0.64) than Whites (β = −0.16). Conclusion: We found Black—White differences in the protective effects of secular and religious social support against depressive symptoms. Blacks seem to benefit more from the same level of emotional social support, regardless of its source, compared to Whites.
Read the full article at the “Understanding Older Adult Resilience from a Life-course Perspective” special issue of Behavioral Sciences website.