Methods: This study used longitudinal data from the Building Strong Families (BSF) project, which aimed to improve relationship quality and foster greater parental involvement with childrearing among low income, unmarried new parents in eight locations across the United States. This study used data from mothers (n = 1,614) about social support, including emotional support from father, the family’s material resources, and emotional and material support from extended network, gathered at the 15-month follow-up as part of a multiple regression model to predict maternal depression measured at 36 months post baseline. Prior to regression analyses, factor analysis was used to determine which social support variables clustered according to typology and source. The first step of the regression model included spousal emotional support, the second step included material resources, and the third extra-spousal emotional and material support.
Results: All steps of the model fit significantly with the data. In the final step, which examined all sources of support simultaneously, fathers’ emotional support was the strongest predictor of mothers’ subsequent depression (β = -.117); extra-spousal material support was also a significant predictor of maternal depression (β = .071), as well as family material resources (β = -.048). Extra-spousal emotional support was not a significant predictors of mothers’ later depression.
Conclusion & Implications: Findings support that social support in general may be useful in buffering against negative mental health outcomes. Spousal support was found to be the strongest inverse predictor of maternal depression, although maternal support from both sources also buffered against maternal depression. These findings support intervention approaches, including the study from which this data is derived, that focus on bolstering the relationship between parents. Future interventions targeting spousal relationships among new parents may achieve greater positive effects on mental health outcomes by also targeting extra-spousal, material forms of social support.