First Advisor

Ginny Garcia-Alexander

Term of Graduation

Summer 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Sociology






Women caregivers -- Saudi Arabia, Social networks, Women caregivers -- Services for -- Saudi Arabia, Women caregivers -- Mental health, Chronically ill children -- Care -- Saudi Arabia



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 141 pages)


In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ("KSA"), a minimal amount of research concerning the availability and level of social support specifically targeting the female caregiver has been conducted. Moreover, the extent to which social support has helped alleviate both the physical and psychological stress of caregiving has been studied very little, if at all. In light of this limited amount of research, the goals of this study are to investigate the following two questions: (1) What is the experience of female caregivers with chronically ill children in KSA, and (2) What is the nature and availability of social support among these women? To address these questions, this dissertation relies on semi-structured interviews and surveys administered to 35 female caregivers of chronically ill children. The surveys incorporated questions dealing with the general experiences that each respondent was exposed to as a caregiver, the perceptions of their individual overall health, and other relevant demographic information. The interviews allowed for exploratory probing and explored women's perspectives on the quantity and quality of social support available to them, experiences with caregiving and caregiver burden, family structure and roles, and impacts to quality of life.

As a citizen of the KSA, I was able to obtain access to and recruit female caregivers within the clinical settings of King Fahd Medical Center, located in the city of Riyadh. With the oversight of a patient coordinator, I administered a caregiver survey and conducted face to face interviews with these women lasting approximately 2 hours per interview. The women who participated were ages 21 to 50. Most reported that as mothers, they were the primary caregivers. A majority of the participants had a high school education or less with a low rate of literacy, while the remaining participants' education ranged from a two- year degree to University studies or more. Most of the participants (71.4 percent) are married, and the majority of responded that they lived within a nuclear family structure and had from 1 to 4 children. Approximately a third of the respondents indicated that their overall health has deteriorated over the past year due to the stress of their caregiving duties. Moreover, a majority of the caregivers spend more than 16 hours caring for patients. The demands this level of care placed on the caregivers was evidenced by the sense of social isolation they experienced. Several key themes emerged with respect to women's perception of support and its role with respect to quality of life. Participants expressed intense pressures and demands related to the care of a chronically ill child, which commonly produced deleterious impacts on their physical and mental health. They expressed frustration over a lack of recognition of caregiving burden among medical professionals and family members alike. Women in the KSA reported very little formal social support, and there was little to no evidence of institutionalized support structures such as support groups or professional personnel who might offer resources for coping or other tools. However, they did report that they received informal emotional support from members of their immediate family including husbands and sisters. Analysis revealed that these female caregivers received support in the form of emotional, informational and instrumental support, all of which were accessed via the respondents' informal social support network of immediate family and friends, the latter of which was cultivated via social media.

This study yielded important insights into Saudi culture and how firmly it is structured along gender lines. Instances reflecting this were seen in responses from the participants where they perceived themselves as failing as wives because they were not able to meet other family members' needs or where they felt the need to demonstrate their ability to be emotionally strong by not soliciting sympathy from others. This study also provided insight into how during times of critical stress, like caring for a chronically ill child, chronic illness may provide an opportunity to abandon cultural norms as was evidenced by how close both spouses became during their child's illness. This seems to suggest that spousal/emotional support might be a very important component of a successful social support system in KSA and adds to our knowledge of the role of social support among female caregivers in the KSA. Implications for further research and the role of social support are discussed.


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