The Role of Social Support and Social Networks in Health Information Seeking Behavior Among Korean Americans: A Mixed Method Approach

Wonsun Kim

Major Professor: Gary L. Kreps, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Anne Nicotera, Xiaoquan Zhao, Carla Fisher, Kyeung Mi Oh

Robinson Hall A, #251
April 15, 2013, 11:00 AM to 08:00 AM


Access to health information appears to be a crucial piece of the racial and ethnic health disparities puzzle among immigrants. There are a growing number of scholars who are investigating the role of social networks that have shown that the number and even types of social networks among minorities and lower income groups differ (Chatman, 1991; Ball, Warheit, Vandiver, & Holzer, 1980; Glass, Mendes De Leon, Seeman,&Berkman, 1997; Palmore, 1981; Kaugh 1999). Very few scholars, however, have examined the use of social support in social networks to retrieve health information. In particular, no extant studies examine both availability of social support and social networks and health information seeking behaviors for Korean immigrants (first generation).

This dissertation examined the influences of social support networks on health information seeking behaviors to increase understanding about the important influences of social networks on health information seeking by immigrants, especially the use of the Internet for health information. More specifically, this study will investigate the effects of (a) acculturation, (b) perceived social support, and (c) social networks on online health information seeking behaviors among Korean immigrants.

Mixed methods utilizing both qualitative and quantitative approaches were used to provide both specificity of response (with closed-ended questions) and depth of response (with open-ended questions). An online survey was administered to 207 first generation Korean immigrants aged 18-50 (e.g., foreign-born Korean immigrants refers to those individuals who have emigrated from Korea to the United States).

The results from the qualitative data add to existing literature in health communication by demonstrating why social support and social networks are important for immigrants. These findings also extend current research on health information seeking behaviors and social support to the Korean immigrant population in the U.S. The results from the survey capture how the availability of social support and the size of social networks can influence health information seeking behaviors. The findings from this current study enhance the utility of SNT as a theory, as well as our understanding of health communication for immigrants. In addition, for health care practitioners and public policy makers, this study provides empirical evidence about the unique use of online health information and social network members as health information sources among Korean Americans.