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Inicio Ansiedad y Estrés Perceived stress and well-being: The role of social support as a protective fact...
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Vol. 26. Núm. 2 - 3.
Páginas 67-72 (Julio - Diciembre 2020)
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Vol. 26. Núm. 2 - 3.
Páginas 67-72 (Julio - Diciembre 2020)
Original article
DOI: 10.1016/j.anyes.2020.03.002
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Perceived stress and well-being: The role of social support as a protective factor among Peruvian immigrants in Spain
Estrés percibido y bienestar: el papel del apoyo social como factor protector en inmigrantes peruanos en España
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José Loayza-Rivasa,b,
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jloayza.89@gmail.com

Corresponding author.
, Jordi Fernández-Castroa
a Grupo de investigación en Estrés y Salud (GIES), Departamento de Psicología Básica, Evolutiva y de la Educación, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
b Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias Humanas, Universidad Tecnológica del Perú, Lima, Peru
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Resumen
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Tablas (2)
Table 1. Descriptive data for the sample and correlation matrix (N=137).
Table 2. Results for the SEM in the study: direct, indirect and total effects (n=137).
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Abstract
Background

Migration is a potentially stressful process due to the sociocultural changes and the adaptation processes that go along with it. However, social support can mitigate the impact of stress, ease the adaptation process and contribute to migrants’ overall well-being. The aim of this study was to explore to what extent social support buffers the effects of stress and ethnic prejudice on subjective well-being and physical symptoms in a Peruvian immigrant community in Spain.

Method

One hundred and thirty seven people participated in the study, 67.2% of them women and 32.8% men, with an age range between 19 and 64 years, who responded to self-report instruments through an online survey. The statistical analysis consisted of obtaining a structural equation model (SEM) in order to estimate the direct, indirect and total effects involved in the relationships between the study variables.

Results

Social support was shown to have a significant direct effect (β=.174, p=.017) on the participants’ degree of subjective well-being, as well as an indirect effect mediated by both stress and ethnic prejudice (β=.170, p<.001). No significant direct relationship was found between the degree of social support and the severity of participants’ physical symptoms.

Conclusions

The level of social support contributes to subjective well-being and acts as a protective factor against the effects of high levels of stress and ethnic prejudice, thus fostering immigrants’ process of adaptation to their new socio-cultural context.

Keywords:
Social support
Stress
Ethnic prejudice
Subjective well-being
Immigrants
Peruvians
Resumen
Antecedentes

La migración es un proceso potencialmente estresante debido a los cambios socioculturales y de adaptación que supone. No obstante, el apoyo social puede moderar el impacto del estrés, favorecer la adaptación y contribuir con el bienestar de las personas. El objetivo de este estudio fue explorar el papel amortiguador del apoyo social sobre el estrés y el prejuicio étnico en el nivel de bienestar subjetivo y en la severidad de síntomas físicos en inmigrantes peruanos residentes en España.

Método

Participaron 137 personas, 67.2% mujeres y 32.8% varones, con un rango de edad entre 19 y 64 años, quienes respondieron instrumentos de autoinforme a través de una encuesta online. El análisis estadístico consistió en obtener un modelo de ecuaciones estructurales (SEM) para estimar los efectos directos, indirectos y totales en la relación entre las variables de estudio.

Resultados

El apoyo social obtuvo un efecto directo significativo (β=.174, p=.017) sobre el grado de bienestar subjetivo y también un efecto indirecto mediado por el nivel de estrés y el prejuicio étnico (β=.170, p<.001). No se encontró ningún efecto directo significativo entre el grado de apoyo social y la severidad de los síntomas físicos.

Conclusiones

El grado de apoyo social contribuye con el bienestar subjetivo y ejerce un papel de protección sobre los niveles de estrés y prejuicio étnico, lo cual favorece la adaptación de los inmigrantes a nuevos contextos socioculturales.

Palabras clave:
Apoyo social
Estrés
Prejuicio étnico
Bienestar subjetivo
Inmigrantes
Peruanos
Texto completo

The issue of migration has of late received a great deal of attention. The political, economic and social conditions faced by the populations of a range of developing countries are causing great numbers of people to attempt to move to other countries in search of improved opportunities and better living conditions. The Peruvian government's National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI) estimates that between 1990 and 2017 there were 3,089,123 Peruvian citizens living abroad, representing approximately 10% of the country's population (INEI, 2018). Spain is one of the most common destination for Peruvian emigrants, playing host to 14.3% of the Peruvians living abroad (INEI, 2018). Peruvians are driven to migrate by a number of factors, including: the search for economic improvement (41.1%), family reunification (21.1%), unemployment (12.5%), study (10%), employment contracts (9.9%), and other factors (5.4%) (INEI, 2013).

From a psychological standpoint, the migration process can be very stressful. The nature of migration itself often brings with it issues such as language barriers, communication problems, sociocultural changes, economic problems, unemployment, social discrimination and the loss of social and family support. All of these factors can be significant sources of stress and can lead to mental health problems (Zarza & Sobrino, 2007).

However, studies have shown that certain protective factors can soften the impact of stress and allow individuals to better handle stressful situations. One of these variables is social support, which is defined as an individual's perception that support will be available should he or she need it (Lett et al., 2005). Social support can take a number of forms and serve a number of functions (e.g., instrumental, informational, emotional, etc.). Thus, the stress-buffering hypothesis maintains that social support can protect individuals from the pathogenic effects of a stressful event, provided that the available social resources are suited to meet the demands of the event (Cohen, 2004).

Social support plays a decisive role in immigrants’ processes of sociocultural adaptation to their new countries. Several studies have shown that social support has a positive influence on well-being and that it is negatively associated with psychological symptomatology (Jibeen, 2011; Jibeen & Khalid, 2010; Tonsing, 2013). Social support contributes to the creation of meaning in life, and it has been shown to increase people's physical health (Finch & Vega, 2003). Other studies have confirmed the buffering effect that social support can have on stress, with support playing a role in preventing anxiety, depression and psychological symptomatology in general (Crockett et al., 2007; Lee, Koeske, & Sales, 2004; Singh, McBride, & Kak, 2015).

Researchers in Spain have found that social support exerts an influence on the subjective well-being of immigrants from Morocco (Hernández, Pozo, & Alonso, 2004) and from Latin America (Herrero, Fuente, & Gracia, 2010). Some studies have examined the kind of networks that provide social support and looked at the key role these networks play in the sociocultural adaptation process. Hernández, Pozo, Alonso, and Martos (2005) found that the subjective well-being of Moroccan migrants is predicted by the degree of satisfaction they feel with the emotional support they receive from the native population of the host society, coupled with their satisfaction with the levels of informational support and other assistance provided by fellow migrants. Domínguez-Fuentes and Hombrados-Mendieta (2012) showed that emotional support from relatives and instrumental support from the native-born population and from aid associations were predictive of happiness among immigrant women mainly from Latin America and Africa. García-Cid, Hombrados-Mendieta, Gómez-Jacinto, Palma-García, and Millán-Franco (2017) provided evidence that social support from family members and from the native population predicts migrants’ degree of life satisfaction in men and women from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. All this research makes clear that social support is associated with well-being and health. However, the ways in which social support acts to protect migrants from the effects of stress have yet to be conclusively studied (Uchino, Bowen, Carlisle, & Birmingham, 2012).

Ethnic prejudice also plays an important role in migrants’ adaptation process, as those who are the targets of this prejudice face an additional obstacle. However, little research has been done on the factors that influence ethnic prejudice and psychological adjustment in immigrants, as well as those factors that allow them to protect themselves from negative experiences related to their ethnicity and minority status. Studies show that ethnic prejudice harms the subjective well-being of its victims (Hernández et al., 2005) and damages their mental and physical health (Agudelo-Suárez et al., 2009; Gil-González et al., 2014; Williams, Neighbors, & Jackson, 2003). Some studies have examined how social support might protect individuals from some of the damage inflicted by ethnic prejudice (Fernández, Silván-Ferrero, Molero, Gaviria, & García-Ael, 2015; Finch & Vega, 2003; Jasinskaja-Lahti, Liebkind, Jaakkola, & Reuter, 2006; Singh et al., 2015). For example, Jasinskaja-Lahti et al. (2006) reported that social support received from both other migrants from the same country of origin and from the native-born population can cushion migrants’ well-being from the damage inflicted by discrimination. One possible explanation is that active coping strategies, such as social support, can buffer the effects of ethnic prejudice by allowing an individual to challenge the validity of discriminatory events and reduce their negative feelings (Pascoe & Smart Richman, 2009). However, the buffering role of social support on ethnic prejudice is still inconclusive.

On the other hand, studies on Peruvian immigrants in Spain are certainly scarce. For example, Maya, Martínez, and García (1999) reported a qualitative study on the perception of the evolution of the social networks of Peruvian women. In another study, these authors found that the psychological well-being of Peruvian immigrant women was significantly predicted by the sufficiency attributed to their social network, the number of Spaniards in their support network, and their perception of personal control (Martínez, García, & Maya, 2002).

In summary, there has been little research to date into the mechanisms underlying the phenomena of social support, stress, subjective well-being and physical symptomatology among Peruvian migrants in Spain. This study provides empirical evidence on these issues, exploring these underlying processes and how they contribute to immigrants’ adaptation to a new sociocultural context. The study's overall aim was to determine the degree to which social support exerts an influence on stress and ethnic prejudice, and the extent to which these variables contribute to explaining the degree of subjective well-being and the physical symptoms experienced by Peruvian immigrants residing in Spain. The specific objectives were: (a) to assess the stress-buffering hypothesis, meaning to determine how and to what degree a person's network of social support affects his or her level of stress, and how this support can lessen the impact of this stress on subjective well-being and on physical symptoms and (b) to assess the degree to which social support acts to protect individuals from the harmful effects of ethnic prejudice, softening the impact on their subjective well-being and on their physical symptoms.

In light of the empirical evidence available from prior studies, the following hypotheses were formulated: (a) that social support has a direct effect on subjective well-being and on physical symptoms; (b) that social support exerts an indirect effect on subjective well-being and physical symptoms, mediated by levels of stress; and (c) that social support has an indirect effect on subjective well-being and physical symptoms, mediated by the experience of ethnic prejudice.

MethodParticipants

The sample included 137 participants, 67.2% women and 32.8% men, with ages ranging from 19 to 64 years old (M=37.3; SD=10), all of them Peruvian citizens residing in Spain. Most of the participants reported their marital status as either married (43.1%) or single (32.8%). Meanwhile, in terms of education, the largest groups reported having completed advanced vocational training (31.4%), undergraduate university studies (31.4%) or graduate studies (28.5%). The most common causes of migration were due to family (44.5%), studies (27%) and the search for economic improvement (14%). Most of them are actively employed (65%) and have stable, long-term immigration status (51.8% were permanent residents, while 26.3% were naturalized Spanish citizens). The participants were recruited in the autonomous communities of Madrid (26.3%), Catalonia (20.4%), Andalusia (24.1%), Valencia (16.1%) and others (13.1%).

InstrumentsSocial support and social network

The Medical Outcomes Social Support questionnaire (MOS; adapted by Revilla, Luna del Castillo, Bailón, & Medina, 2005) was used to assess perceived social support. This questionnaire consists of 20 items answered on a five-point Likert scale. It is made up of three factors: emotional/informational support, affective support and instrumental support. This measurement displayed a Cronbach's α coefficient of .98 for the sample in this study. In order to measure the participants’ social networks, the first item of the questionnaire was adapted to ask about various nationalities: Spanish people (natives), Peruvians (compatriots) and other foreigners (other immigrants).

Stress

The ten-item version of the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS-10; adapted by Remor, 2006) was used to assess perceived stress during the last month. The PSS-10 consists of 10 items, all of them answered on a five-point Likert scale. The sample in this study showed an internal consistency coefficient of α=.76.

Ethnic prejudice

This variable was measured using the one-question “Do you feel rejected because you are from Peru?” which respondents answered on a seven-point Likert scale. This item was adapted from an earlier paper by Hernández et al. (2005), who used this item to measure ethnic prejudice in immigrants in the Spanish context.

Subjective well-being

Lima Happiness Scale (LHS; Alarcón, 2006) was included to assess subjective well-being. The LHS consists of 27 items answered on a five-point Likert scale. It measures four factors: absence of intense suffering, life satisfaction, personal fulfillment and enjoyment of life. The internal consistency coefficient for the sample in this study was α=.95.

Physical symptoms

Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-15; adapted by Ros, Comas, & Garcia-Garcia, 2010) was used to assess physical symptoms during the last month. This questionnaire is made up of 15 items answered on a three-point Likert scale. The internal consistency for the sample in this study was α=.87.

Sociodemographic data

A form was created to collect data on sex, age, marital status, education, immigration status, reason for migration, employment status and current place of residence.

Procedure

First, an online form was designed to obtain the participants’ informed consent and to apply the data collection instruments detailed above. Then, the help of the Peruvian consulate in Spain was enlisted, along with that of community associations and other groups of Peruvians residing in Spain, all of whom agreed to share the link to the online form via their social networks. Participants were asked to provide informed consent and were told of the voluntary, confidential and anonymous nature of the study.

Data collection was carried out during the months of January and May 2018, and then in February 2020 to increase the sample. One hundred and forty three visits to the online form were registered, obtaining 137 correctly completed answers. The data obtained were processed in a database for later statistical analysis.

Statistical analysis

The statistical analysis was conducted using the Stata 14.1 software program for Windows. First, a correlation matrix was obtained for the variables in the study. Due to the strong association between the statistical significance of the R coefficients and the sample size, the effect size was considered to be low-poor for |r|>.10, moderate-medium for |r|>.24 and large-high for |r|>.37 (these thresholds correspond to Cohen's-d of .20, .50 and .80 respectively; Rosnow & Rosenthal, 1996). The next step was to obtain a SEM to assess the underlying mechanisms (direct and indirect effects, along with paths of mediation) at work among social support, stress and ethnic prejudice, subjective well-being and physical symptoms.

The maximum likelihood estimation model was used, and goodness of fit was assessed using the usual statistical methods: chi-squared (χ2) test, root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA), Bentler's Comparative Fit Index (CFI) and the Tucker–Lewis Index (TLI). The model degree of fit was deemed acceptable because: the results of the χ2 were non-significant, RMSEA<.08, TLI>.9 and CFI>.9. The model's overall predictive capacity was determined using the coefficient of determination (CD).

In this study, a SEM was calculated in order to assess the protective role of social support against both stress and ethnic prejudice. Additionally, the study generated a latent variable to measure participants’ social networks, namely the total number of significant social contacts each participant had, according to the kind of network.

ResultsDescriptive statistics and bivariate correlations

Table 1 shows the descriptive statistics and the correlation matrix for the variables in the study. The associations between variables that were found to be moderate to high appear in bold. They indicate that higher degrees of social support are associated with larger numbers of social contacts with members of the native-born population, as well as with lower levels of stress. Meanwhile, higher levels of stress are associated with more severe physical symptoms and with lower scores for subjective well-being. Higher levels of social support are also associated with greater degrees of subjective well-being and lower scores for ethnic prejudice. Additionally, ethnic prejudice is associated with lower levels of subjective well-being and more reports of physical symptoms. The only association found for participants’ immigration status was with a greater amount of contact with the native-born population.

Table 1.

Descriptive data for the sample and correlation matrix (N=137).

    DescriptivesCorrelation matrix
    Mean  SD 
Perceived stress  15.03  6.05               
Social support  72.38  21.06  −.28a             
Subjective well-being  102.78  17.34  −.52a  .35           
Physical symptoms  22.73  5.42  .56a  .12  −.37a         
Compatriot network  4.09  3.83  .20  .19  .18  .09       
Native-born network  5.02  4.55  −.28a  .32a  .15  .21  .43a     
Immigrant network  3.41  3.88  .19  .04  .06  .15  .41a  .41a   
Ethnic prejudice  2.09  1.41  .41a  .29a  .43a  .41a  .11  .23  .06 
Immigration status  .77  .42  .11  .09  .07  .00  .19a  .33a  .07  .05 

Note. SD: standard deviation.

a

Bold: effect size into the moderate–medium (|r|>.24) to large–high (|r|>.37) range.

SEM results

The path-diagram displayed in Fig. 1 shows the standardized coefficients of the SEM in the study (Table 2 displays the results of this model in full). The model obtained a good fit [χ2=22.535 (df=14, p=.068), CFI=.963, TLI=.925, RMSEA=.067] and showed a high degree of overall predictive capacity (CD=.702). The results obtained indicate that participants who reported higher levels of social support and lesser degrees of stress tended to score higher on subjective well-being. The participants’ perceived stress levels also acted as a mediating variable in the relationship between social support and subjective well-being: greater social support predicts lower levels of stress, which in turn contributes to increases in the reported levels of subjective well-being. The variable of severity of physical symptoms displayed only one direct and positive association, with the levels of stress.

Fig. 1.

Path diagram with the standardized coefficients of the SEM in the study (N=137). Note. Continuous line: significant parameter. Dotted line: non-significant parameter.

(0,22MB).
Table 2.

Results for the SEM in the study: direct, indirect and total effects (n=137).

  B  SE  z  p  IC 95% B  St-B 
Direct and indirect effects to SWB
Direct effects
Social support  .143  .060  2.40  .017  .026; .261  .174 
Stress  −1.094  .218  −5.01  <.001  −1.521; −.666  −.382 
Ethnic prejudice  −2.799  .937  −2.99  .003  −4.636; −9.615  −.228 
Indirect effects
Via social support and stress  .087  .031  2.79  .005  .026; .148  .105 
Via social support and ethnic prejudice  .054  .024  2.27  .023  .007; .010  .065 
Via social support, stress and ethnic prejudice  .140  .040  3.52  <.001  .062; .218  .170 
Total effects
Social support  .284  .066  4.30  <.001  .154; .413  .345 
Direct and indirect effects to physical symptoms
Direct effects
Social support  .021  .019  1.14  .256  −.015; .058  .083 
Stress  .424  .069  6.17  <.001  .290; .559  .474 
Ethnic prejudice  .908  .295  3.07  .002  .328; 1.487  .237 
Indirect effects
Via social support and stress  −.034  .011  −2.95  .003  −.056; −.011  −.130 
Via social support and ethnic prejudice  −.017  .007  −2.30  .021  −.032; −.003  −.068 
Via social support, stress and ethnic prejudice  −.051  .014  −3.61  <.001  −.079; −.023  −.198 
Total effects
Social support  −.030  .22  −1.36  .174  −.072; .013  −.115 

Note. B: unstandardized coefficient. SE: standard error. St-B: standardized coefficient.

On the other hand, social support contributes directly to subjective well-being, and it also exerts an indirect effect on well-being via the degree of ethnic prejudice experienced (with the latter variable acting in a mediating role). The severity of physical symptoms was directly affected only by the degree of ethnic prejudice.

Discussion

The aim of this study was to examine the underlying mechanisms operating between the phenomena of social support, stress, ethnic prejudice, subjective well-being and the severity of physical symptoms among Peruvian immigrants residing in Spain. The results obtained from the SEM analysis were to a large degree in accordance with the hypotheses posed at the start of the study. These results indicate that social support contributes to subjective well-being and acts as a buffer against the harmful effects of stress and ethnic prejudice. However, no evidence was found to show that social support has any direct (or indirect) effect on physical symptoms.

An analysis of the model constructed to explain the functioning of this protection against the effects of stress shows that networks of relationships with both compatriots and local natives play a central role within migrants’ overall social networks, with connections with the latter group occupying the most important position. The extent of migrants’ social networks has an influence on the degree of perceived social support. This finding echoes those of other studies, many of which have underlined the importance of a network made up of compatriots and members of the native-born population to those in the process of adapting and becoming integrated into a new society (Dominguez-Fuentes & Hombrados-Mendieta, 2012; García-Cid et al., 2017; Hernández et al., 2005; Jasinskaja-Lahti et al., 2006; Martínez et al., 2002). Social connections with the native-born population represent opportunities to develop the skills and values they need in order to navigate their new cultural environment, while networks of compatriots allows them to communicate with others who have shared similar experiences and problems (García, Martínez, Albar, & Santolaya, 2002).

Social support acts as a buffer against stress, reducing the impact of stress on subjective well-being. This finding is also largely in accordance with previous studies in the literature (Crockett et al., 2007; Lee et al., 2004; Singh et al., 2015). However, this study did not find any relationship between social support and the variable of physical symptoms. This result would seem to contradict earlier research, given that prior studies have thoroughly documented the connections between social support and physical health. Nonetheless, a relationship was observed between stress and physical symptoms. It is worth noting here that recent studies have found that the strength of the relationship between social support and physical health is affected by migrants’ ages, with older adults showing the most accentuated effects (Choi, Kwon, Lee, Choi, & Choi, 2018). Our sample was made up mainly of young adults, so this tendency could point to one possible explanation for the fact that our study found no significant relationship between social support and physical health.

On the other hand, the analysis of the model shows that social support reduces the effects of ethnic prejudice on subjective well-being. This result is also in accordance with the findings of other studies (Fernández et al., 2015; Finch & Vega, 2003; Jasinskaja-Lahti et al., 2006; Singh et al., 2015), which have indicated that social support can also protect people from the negative effects of discrimination. According to Pascoe and Smart Richman (2009), contact with friends or relatives after having experienced discrimination can help the victims of this discrimination to regain their self-esteem and can prevent the appearance of depressive symptoms. Another possible explanation for the effect could be that experiences of ethnic prejudice increase when social support is insufficient or lacking (Jasinskaja-Lahti et al., 2006).

One limitation of this study is connected to the sample. The sample size is small, and it is made up of more women than men. Additionally, non-probability sampling was used, meaning that it is difficult to generalize the results.

In spite of these limitations associated with the sample, this study has contributed evidence in favor of the hypothesis that social support plays a protective role in the adaptation process of the members of a group of Peruvian immigrants. More specifically, the evidence indicates that this support acts to cushion the impact of stress and blunt the effects of ethnic prejudice on Latin American migrants.

There is much room for further research into the psychological mechanisms that are at work when social support exerts an influence on well-being and health. Meanwhile, it is also necessary to examine other variables that have received less attention but that may shed light on these relationships. Future researchers should move forward along these lines and attempt to overcome the sort of limitations that were present in this study. However, it should be noted again that despite the limitations, the results of this study confirm the key role played by social support in easing the adaptation process and promoting migrants’ participation in society. One practical implication of these findings might be a need to develop risk prevention and health promotion programs serving migrant groups and to design these programs to reflect the critical role played by social support in the well-being of these individuals. It would likely also be effective to take steps to help migrants extend their social networks with the native-born population and with their compatriots in order to improve the quality of the social support they receive. This would allow people to experience the more positive side of migration. It would foster personal growth, encourage the learning of new social skills, ease adaptation and contribute to greater well-being (Walsh, Shulman, & Maurer, 2008). Finally, it is necessary to strengthen the integration policies in countries that receive immigrants to provide support to these public health initiatives.

Funding

The present work was supported by the Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad of Spanish Government [grant number FEDER, PSI2016-76411-R].

Conflict of interest

None.

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