In this article, we examine the social networks of low-income mothers, using a conceptual framework that differentiates social networks that offer support from those that yield leverage. This ethnographic analysis pays particular attention to how respondents generate social capital to obtain resources for survival and social mobility. Respondents identified at least three issues beyond resource constraints that work alone or in combination to positively or negatively influence their use of family as sources of social support: physical proximity, reciprocity, and family tensions. We also explore the conditions under which respondents generate social support through friendships and non-profit institutions. We find that social capital that improves opportunities for upward mobility can be obtained from relationships that provide advice, contacts, and encouragement to get ahead. We also find that social support and social leverage networks can work in tandem or in tension to allow (or preclude) day-to-day survival and mobility. Social support networks can inhibit social mobility by enforcing time-consuming and professionally limiting expectations on women. The size and heterogeneity of the network becomes important in such instances.


Originally published in Social Problems, v. 50 no.1 (2003), pp.111-35. DOI:10.1525/sp.2003.50.1.111

Dr. Domínguez was affiliated with Northeastern University as of the time of deposit.


social networks, mothers, ethography, low-income families

Subject Categories

Low-income mothers - Social networks


Social and Cultural Anthropology


University of California Press

Publication Date


Rights Information

Copyright 2003 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc.

Rights Holder

Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc.

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