ARTICLES What Support by Kin to Widows? C. ARUNA AND T. CHANDRAMOHAN...
What Support by Kin to Widows?
This paper portrays the type of support received by widows in rebuilding their
lives through interpersonal relationships and is viewed through the emerging net-
work perspective. It examines the inflow of support from different sources, both
kin as well as non-kin. The results show that the network is small, kin-centred,
physically proximate and homogeneous in gender and caste. While members of
primary kin and friends of the same gender are active in extending emotional sup-
port, parents and siblings are the usual supporters in financial domain. Proximate
and frequently met ties, irrespective of sectors, dominate services and informa-
tional domain.
Ms. C. Aruna is an ICSSR Open Doctoral Fellow and Dr. T. Chandramohan
Reddy is Professor, Department of Sociology, Bharathiar University,

Traditionally, kin and family were the usual care givers to widows.
With the onset of structural changes in the family set up in modernis-
ing societies, the declining role of kin and the weakening of traditional
security systems is widespread. This paper attempts to examine how,
and from where, do the widows mobilise the support in meeting the de-
mands of widowhood.
Widowhood implies loss of the social role as wife and cessation of
interpersonal relationship with the marital partner who used to be a pil-
lar of multidimensional support. Widowhood, brings in its wake, ma-
jor problems too for the widows who usually face
• role burden;
• setback in emotional state;
• role reversal from a dependent or marginal provider to a core
provider and associated activities;
• reduced income and other resources;

2 C. Aruna and T. Chandramohan Reddy
• reduction in supportive relations accentuated by their limited ca-
pacity to reciprocate; and
• limited options to cope with the new situation constrained by
cultural ethos.
Widows are integrated into their community and the wider society
through a complex of support systems, interactional sequences and so-
cial relations. The forms of integration available to, or forced on, a
women who is widowed reflect the social structure and culture of the
community and of the society in which she lives. A support is an action
or object which the society generally defines as necessary or helpful in
maintaining a style of life of a category of its members.
Absence of male spouse causes stress and grief, thereby enhancing
the need for social support. Many scholars have stressed the need for
empathy and emotional support for recent widows. In India, in addi-
tion to grief and personal problems, the social stigma and ostracisation
attached to widowhood necessitate the need for emotional support.
Genuine interest in family matters, care of children and being guard-
ians are significant strands of support required in the emotional do-
Female-headed households underline economic hardships and
eventual cycle of debt and poverty. Decline in economic resources and
entry into the labour force after widowhood have been observed. The
traditional outlook has been that males are seen as bread winners and
females look after the 'home'. Consequent on widowhood, economic
support is most frequently sought by the widows, but remains the most
unmet need (Adilakshmi, 1988).
Marked division of labour in intact families add burden to the survi-
vor while performing unfamiliar tasks after widowhood (Lopata,
1979). Widowhood not only implies a loss of key member or
'socio-emotional supporter', but also a provider of task support in
daily life especially to older widows and those with young children.
The most frequently needed services are personal and family care dur-
ing illness, transportation, household repairs, purchase of large items
and help involving physical mobility such as payment of electricity
bills, collection of gas cylinders, and so on, in an urban setting.
Informational support is required by widows in the event of ventur-
ing out in new activities in the formal or informal sectors and guidance
to take decisions. Widows also need informational support with regard
to education and occupation of self and children. Opportunities and

What Support by Kin to Widows? 3
benefits from the formal sector can only be utilised to the maximum
with timely and clear information. At times, legal aid is required to
deal with personal, familial and external problems.
In societies where formal support systems are non-existent or mar-
ginal, the importance of informal support systems cannot be overem-
phasised. 'The relationship with friends and relatives provide much of
social capital people use to deal with daily life, seize opportunities and
reduce uncertainties' (Kadushin, 1981). Widowhood poses a series of
alterations in the kin and non-kin ties due to the individual's inability
to retain or maintain social contacts (Rosenberg and Anspach, 1973).
Not all ties are supportive and different types of ties systematically
provide different kinds of support (Lin, Dean and Ensel, 1986). It is
generally contended that supportive ties are a function of the resource
position of the widows and of the structural and functional properties
of the network. These operate in varying degrees to integrate the wid-
ows into the society. Supportive social relationships enhance success-
ful coping with stressful life events. Supportive networks thus fill a
great void in their lives by acting as a buffer between life events and
adaptation (Henderson, 1977). Social networks are necessarily con-
sidered supportive as they provide comfort, information, material aid
and other resources (Caplan, 1974). Indian studies have reported find-
ings of overall decline in support by relatives, specifically affinal kin
(Katti and Nagesh, 1984; Kitchlu, 1993). In patriarchal societies, the
structure of the extended lineal group and its power over each nuclear
unit strongly affect the support of the survivors when a major member
of the line dies.
The focus of the paper is to enumerate the social relations of widows in
their day to day life and to delineate which relationships provide what
kind of support. Therefore, a study concerned with support received
by widows in the four dimensions of emotional, financial, services and
information from various sources was carried out.
It was measured on the basis of subjective assessment of respon-
dents with reference to various items under these dimensions. Items
relevant to the Indian setting were formulated, in addition to support-
ive strands used by different researchers. The data were collected from
widows living within Coimbatore city. Due to the non-availability of
systematic records, snow ball sampling technique was the only feasible
method to identify the samples. A hundred and twenty-five widows were

4 C. Aruna and T. Chandramohan Reddy
personally interviewed with a schedule and, on an average, the inter-
views lasted for an hour. Data collection was carried out during the
year 1993.
Simple percentages and mean scores were used for description and
analyses of the data.
Profile of the Sample
Most of the respondents (88 per cent) were Hindus, the rest being
Christians and Muslims. By caste hierarchy, one-fourth were Brah-
mins; a considerable proportion were Gounders (17.6 per cent), the lo-
cal dominant farming community; followed by the Chettiars and the
Naidus who adhere strongly to the traditional restrictions on widow-
hood. A few respondents belonged to the service and minor caste
groups, who also try to imitate the lifestyle of the dominant groups. On
the whole the sample was homogeneous by religion and class. Internal
variations on restrictions and codes of conduct by caste were only mar-
The respondents were aged between 22-50 years (x = 41.46) with
monthly incomes ranging from Rs. 500/- to Rs. 5,000/-. Majority of
them were recent widows with a mean span of 6.29 years (Table 1).
Following the death of their husbands, many had opted to live with
parents, siblings, affines and other distant relatives (Table 2).
TABLE 1: Profile of the Sample
Particulars (in years)
Age of the respondent
Age at marriage
Spousal age at marriage
Spousal age difference
Age at widowhood
Span of widowhood
Note:N= 125
Considering the occupation of the spouse prior to widowhood and
possession of assets, greater proportion of the widows belonged to the
middle class. Majority of the spouses were in clerical, teaching and
managerial jobs and a small proportion were small traders and profes-
sionals. About three-fourths of the respondents possessed immovable
property in the form of land or house.

What Support by Kin to Widows? 5
TABLE 2: Living Arrangement of Respondents after Widowhood
Living Arrangement
Along with married and unmarried children
With affinal kin
With parents
With brothers
With distant relatives
Note: N = 125
The family income of the widows cannot be accounted as the sole
basis for livelihood as families with low income are usually supported
with goods and finances by core supporters. Decline in income level
has been experienced by most families on widowhood and about half
of the employed have entered the labour force only on being widowed.
Emotional Support
The findings on support provision in various dimensions revealed
that emotional support was provided by hardly one-third of the sup-
portive ties. One in three ties was involved in sharing emotional feel-
ings like ventilating their concerns of the past and the present,
whereas one-fifth were confided with personal and family problems.
One out of ten were involved in decision-making over important
family matters and in the provision of moral support. A similar pro-
portion of networkers visited frequently and cared for the family
well-being, while only a few ties showed concern for the children and
took up guardianship roles (Table 3).
TABLE 3: Emotional Support Extended by Ties
No. of ties
Percent of ties
Share emotional feelings
Confide personal matters
Moral support
Emotional warmth to children
4.73 •
Discussing family problems
Scheduled visits to enquire
family well being
Note: N = 125

6 C. Aruna and T. Chandramohan Reddy
Financial Support
In the financial domain, the proportion of ties extending small finan-
cial support or timely help was greater and was reciprocated by the
widow on a similar plane. About half of the ties extended large finan-
cial support without interest and one in ten provided large financial
support with interest. A lesser proportion gifted on special occasions
(Table 4).
TABLE 4: Financial Support Extended by Ties
No. of ties
Percent of ties
Small finance
Large finance without interest
Large amounts with interest
Gifts and clothes
Note: N= 125
Service Support
In the service sector, more than half of the ties were involved in run-
ning errands and other minor services requiring physical mobility.
One in five took care of children in the respondent's absence or illness;
nursed and cared in times of health problems; and readily exchanged
household items like groceries, food items, and so on, whenever a
need arose. Assistance in major services like transportation of goods
during shifting of residences and major purchases was relatively low
and only a few required this support (Table 5).
TABLE 5: Service Support Extended by Ties
No. of ties
Percent of ties
Child related services
Nursing and accompanying to hospital
Running errands and other services
Exchanging provisions
Help in major services
Note: N = 125
Informational Support
Though many widows required support in this area, only a few ties (21
per cent) recognised this need and provided appropriate support. A
wide gap exists between the required and received support in this do-
main and no sector is noteworthy in providing this support (Table 6).

What Support by Kin to Widows? 7
TABLE 6: Information Support Extended by Ties
No. of ties
Percent of ties
Information of formal matters
information on informal matters
Suggestions and Advice
Note: N = 125
The empirically found supportive relations in the four dimensions
are parents (8.96 per cent); siblings (21.39 per cent); secondary kin
(14.68 per cent); extended kin (8.47 per cent), which includes cousins,
aunts, uncles, grandparents, and so on; friends (25.87 per cent); neigh-
bours (15.67 per cent); and co-workers (4.96 per cent) among non-kin
(Table 7).
TABLE 7: Sources of Support
No. of ties
Percentage of ties
Mean number
of ties
Immediate kin
Secondary kin
Extended kin
Note:N= 125
All kin do not provide the same kind, or extent, of assistance. Con-
versely, each type of kin has a distinctive pattern of support to offer.
Though the parent-child bond is socially the closest and obligatory
one, the proportion of parents in networks is small. There is no paradox
in the pattern, as the study did not reckon with household support. As
many as 34 respondents lived with one or both parents. Widows
received emotional aid from parents, next only from siblings. Parents
were also the key source of aid regarding large finances, which came
without any interest; supplied provisions; and were the core advisors.
They were less physically active and suffered from lack of information
in view of the generation gap.

8 C. Aruna and T. Chandramohan Reddy
The sibling bond was found to be the most supportive of all kin types in
this study. It is broadly supportive in all four dimensions, except a few
Ties between siblings are so emotionally supportive that they were
the primary providers in this dimension. As with emotional support,
many siblings do not hesitate to offer any kind of financial assistance
including major financial aid. They also shared produces grown on
their farms, bought seasonal products on their behalf and exchanged
delicacies on special occasions. In addition, siblings assisted with ser-
vices like transportation of goods and major purchases, and took part
in child care activities (for example, transporting children to educa-
tional institutions, help in decisions on schools and careers, and so on).
Advice and suggestions on all matters were frequently sought from
siblings and they were the vital informants governing formal needs.
Secondary Kin (In-laws)
The major providers of support among secondary kin were sib-
lings-in-law and parents-in-law. Although these affinal and consan-
guine secondary kin play a significant role across dimensions, their
support is unique in specific strands. A sizable proportion acted as
guardians, expressed emotional warmth to the children of widows and
participated in discussing family problems. They were more likely
than friends and less likely than siblings and parents in providing large
financial support without interest. A moderate proportion of this cate-
gory gave support in the services and informational domains.
Extended Kin
Extended kin were the least likely of all network members to provide
any support in any dimension.
The sizable presence of friends in the networks demonstrates that they
occupy the largest space among role types extending support. Findings
indicate that friendship support systems were more active in urban ar-
eas rather than in rural settings.
Friends were similar to siblings in providing support in all dimen-
sions, except a few strands like discussion of family problems, major
financial aid and exchanging provisions. However, they extended ma-
jor finance on interest. They were better functionaries for timely help

What Support by Kin to Widows? 9
such as running errands, providing care at the time of illness, and other
minor services.
Physical access makes it easier for people to deliver services even
when their relationships are not intimate. They help each other more
out of convenience.
With accessibility and frequency of contact, neighbours were the
most active group of moral supporters. They were usually relied on for
childcare activities, while the respondent was away on a short duration
and sharing of knowledge and emergency services like caring for the
sick and accompanying to the hospital. Neighbours usually assisted in
shopping for daily needs, payment of bills, and so on, and acted as a vi-
tal link to information pertaining to their dealings with formal organi-
sations like banks and schools.
This group makes up a small section of the supportive ties of urban
widows; perhaps the number of employed widows and formal setting
restricts informal interaction and exchange. Co-workers, like ex-
tended kin, play a subdued role though they are present in all dimen-
sions, They occasionally visit and enquire on their well-being and
requirements. Co-workers are more visible than neighbours and ex-
tended kin in extending financial support. They are next to siblings and
friends in providing major services and are informative on formal and
informal matters.
Personal characteristics of tie members, apart from types of rela-
tionships, affect the quantity and quality of support. Women, espe-
cially widows, were emotionally closer to the respondents, extended
more child care and timely gender-linked support.
Men — usually kin, employed, young and unmarried — rather
than women, predominated the financial domain. Frequent physical
services involving expenditure of time are extended by unemployed
youths, while infrequent support is extended by employed ties.
Immediate kin are a readily available source in all spheres of support,
except the informational domain. Siblings, predominantly males, play
a major role in all kinds of emotional support followed by parents and
secondary kin. Among non-kin, friends play a major role in different
strands of this dimension. Neighbourly support is significant in the

10 C. Aruna and T. Chandramohan Reddy
provision of moral support and sharing of emotional feelings facili-
tated by easy accessibility and proximity of ties. The involvement of
co-workers is negligible.
Parents are involved largely in providing financial support without
interest and to a lesser extent in giving small financial support and gifts.
Male siblings also extended financial support in the same vein. The role
of secondary kin in extending large financial support without interest
and small financial exchanges is noteworthy. Friends function more like
siblings in the extension of certain types of financial support. Neigh-
bours and workmates are involved marginally in financial transactions.
The role of siblings and secondary kin is notable in the service sec-
tor while parents are significant in providing provisions. Friends, fol-
lowed by neighbours, among non-kin, predominate while co-workers
tend to restrict their involvement with regard to major services.
Though the widows are in need of informational support, only a
small proportion of ties are involved in providing this support and,
therefore, it largely remains an unmet need. No sector is significant in
provision of support in this domain though siblings, friends and
co-workers are involved marginally.
Siblings, among kin, are the major providers of total social support
followed by parents, secondary kin and extended kin. The order of
supportive hierarchy of non-kin is headed by friends followed by
neighbours and co-workers.
Parents, except in their old age, are the chief obligatory ties who as-
sist their dependent as well as non-dependent children. Siblings sup-
plement or replace parents in due course. The hierarchical model,
specific to this population, has been established at least in the dimen-
sions of emotional, financial and informational support. Several plau-
sible explanations are offered for the relatively limited presence of
parents in supporting the widowed daughter. The respondents were
middle-aged and, hence, the parents of many of the respondents were
not alive. Even if they were, they were old and lacking in certain re-
sources. Their limited representation is also due to the fact that some
were household members of the respondents. Siblings were support-
ive, not only due to the obligation implied, but also as a result of inti-
macy developed by growing together as peers. Among non-kin,
friends, who are the psychologically closest members, are the eventual
supporters, followed by physically proximate neighbours and finally
by the ties developed at the workplace.

What Support by Kin to Widows? 11
An overview of the data indicates that siblings and friends of the
same age are the largest support groups. Traditional support flowing
from wider kin group has now been limited to primary kin, specifically
to consanguines. Close contact and support from affinal kin, charac-
teristic of a patrilineal society, is fading in the absence of husbands and
the involvement of secondary and tertiary kin are minimal. The occu-
pational migration and heterogeneous composition in the urban envi-
ronment supplement the widows' support system with ties of new role
Though restrictions on and codes of conduct enforced on widows
vary by caste only marginally, some significant features are noted in
the support of Brahmins. Brahmins have a tradition of migration and
hence their kin are dispersed. Personal contacts among them are less
frequent as their regular visits to their natives are confined to school
vacations. However, kin solidarity is found to be strong and their par-
ticipation in the life-cycle ceremonies is assumed in spite of long
distance. The core supporters, usually primary kin, provide major in-
strumental support, assist the children of widows in their educational
endeavour and in building a career and are often involved in major deci-
sions. They rely on the modern means of communication to arrange for
the delivery of support on their behalf by some distant kin or even
non-kin. Thus, they play perfunctory roles in meeting routine needs.
Adilakshmi, S.A.T.
A Sociological Study of Brahmins in Andhra Pradesh.
Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Tirupati: Sri Padmavathi
Mahila Viswa Vidhyalaya.
Caplan, G.
Support Systems and Community Mental Health: Lec-
tures on Concept Development, New York: Behavioral
Henderson, S.
The Social Network, Support and Neurosis, British Jour-
nal of Psychiatry, 131, 185-191.
Kadushin, C.
Notes on Expectations of Reward in N-Person Networks.
In P. Blau and R. Merton (Eds.), Continuities in Structural
Inquiry, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 235-254.
Katti and Nagesh
A Socio-economic Study of Widows, Journal of Institute
of Economic Research, 19( 1).
Kitchlu, T.N.
Widows in India, New Delhi: Ashish Publishing.

12 C. Aruna and T. Chandramohan Reddy
Lin, N., Dean, A. and
Social Support, Life Events and Depression, Orlando: Ac-
Ensel, W.
ademic Press.
Lopata, H.Z.
Women as Widows: Support Systems, New York:
Rosenberg, G. and
Working Class Kinship, Lexington: D.C. Health and
Anspach, D.F.
THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK, volume 62, issue 1, January 2001