Relationships Stretched Thin: Social Support Mobilization in Poverty

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Research on how the poor “make ends meet” typically shows that they are able to do so by relying on dense support networks of family and close friends. Recent research suggests, however, that these networks play a limited role. This article examines the role of informal networks in how sixty-one households in Barcelona, Spain, cope with poverty. We use a mixed-methods design that combines structured network delineation with semistructured interviews about the processes of support mobilization. Findings show a great variation in network size and resource capacity among households and in the kinds of ties that offer support. Social support was regarded as essential among members of poor households, but mobilized networks were often insufficient for covering even the most basic needs, and prolonged network mobilization could cause strain and long-term conflict. This analysis suggests that support networks may help people to cope with income volatility while simultaneously increasing the potential for social exclusion and isolation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-88
Number of pages24
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Personal networks
  • Social support
  • Poverty
  • Reciprocity
  • Relational work
  • Disposable ties


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