Genetic and Environmental Influences on Perceived Social Support: Differences by Sex and Relationship

William L. Coventry, Nathan A. Gillespie, Andrew C. Heath, Nicholas G. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Previous research has shown that self-reports of the amount of social support are heritable. Using the Kessler perceived social support (KPSS) measure, we explored sex differences in the genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences. We did this separately for subscales that captured the perceived support from different members of the network (spouse, twin, children, parents, relatives, friends and confidant). Our sample comprised 7059 male, female and opposite-sex twin pairs aged 18−95 years from the Australian Twin Registry. We found tentative support for different genetic mechanisms in males and females for support from friends and the average KPSS score of all subscales, but otherwise, there are no sex differences. For each subscale alone, the additive genetic (A) and unique environment (E) effects were significant. By contrast, the covariation among the subscales was explained — in roughly equal parts — by A, E and the common environment, with effects of different support constellations plausibly accounting for the latter. A single genetic and common environment factor accounted for between half and three-quarters of the variance across the subscales in both males and females, suggesting little heterogeneity in the genetic and environmental etiology of the different support sources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-263
Number of pages13
JournalTwin Research and Human Genetics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 22 2021


  • Social support
  • environment
  • genetic
  • sex
  • twin


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