A Biocultural Perspective on Fictive Kinship in the Andes: Social Support and Women’s Immune Function in El Alto, Bolivia

Abstract

This article examines the influence of emotional and instrumental support on women’s immune function, a biomarker of stress, in the city of El Alto, Bolivia. It tests the prediction that instrumental support is protective of immune function for women living in this marginal environment. Qualitative and quantitative ethnographic methods were employed to assess perceived emotional and instrumental support and common sources of support; multiple linear regression analysis was used to model the relationship between social support and antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus. These analyses provided no evidence that instrumental social support is related to women’s health, but there is some evidence that emotional support from compadres helps protect immune function.