2011. Vol.2, No.3, 220-225
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.23030
A Survey of Social Support and Coping Style in Middle
School Female Teachers in China
Ping Wang1, Qiong Dai2
1School of Foreign Languages and Literature of Wuhan University, Wuhan University, Wuhan, China;
2Maternal Hospital of Hubei Province, Wuhan, China.
Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Received May 20th, 2011; revised June 8th, 2011; accepted June 15th, 2011.
Objective: It is hypothesized that social support and different coping style would make a difference in people’s
health. This paper attempts to investigate social support and coping style in middle school female teachers in
Wuhan, China. Methods: 1:2 case-control matched study. 300 female teachers as case group, 300 matched male
teachers as control group 1 and another 300 matched female workers as another control group. Results: Female
teachers got significantly lower score on positive coping and higher negative coping than male teachers. How-
ever, they got significantly higher score on positive coping and lower negative coping than female workers (P <
0.05 respectively). Female teachers scored significantly lower than male teachers but higher than female workers
on total score of social support, objective and subjective support and utility degree of social support (P < 0.05
respectively). There were no significant differences between female teachers from senior and junior middle
schools on coping style and social support (P > 0.05 respectively). The female teachers from key senior and
junior middle schools got significantly higher score on positive coping style and social support than those from
non-key middle schools (P < 0.05 respectively). There were no significant differences between female teachers
on negative coping from key and non-key senior and junior middle schools (P > 0.05 respectively). The female
teachers with a higher title and professional qualification got significantly lower score on negative coping and
higher score on positive coping and social support than female teachers with a lower title and professional quali-
fication and female workers (P < 0.05 respectively). The female teachers with master and bachelor degree got
significantly lower score on negative coping and higher score on subjective support and utility degree of social
support than those without a degree (P < 0.05 respectively). Conclusion: The impact of social support and cop-
ing style showed significant differences for female teachers of different school, professional and education level.
Keywords: Social Support, Coping Style, Middle School, Female Teachers
Teachers’ stress is a much discussed issue. However, the re-
search on teachers’ (especially female teachers) coping style
and social support for different stages of school is insufficient.
The American scholar Turner (1983) discussed social support
in a systematic way in his book Social support: Concep-
tualization, measurement, and implication for mental health.
Vernitria (2009) discussed about improving teacher retention
by providing needed support in her doctorate dissertation. Xie
& Li (2010) discussed the relationship between female tea-
chers’ life quality and their coping style in Shaoxin District,
China. Lots of papers published abroad and home including
Psychological Science, Journal of Personality and Psychology,
International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, etc. provided
reference for the research of middle school female teachers’
way of coping style and social support. Based on a review of
international research, it is concluded that teachers’ stress is a
serious problem and it is definitely associated with a range of
causal factors, including those intrinsic to teaching, individual
vulnerability and systematic influences.
Female teachers as a special group play not only a teacher’s
role but also special social roles, such as wife, mother, daughter
and so on. China is a country with a long history of feudalism
and women are expected to shoulder the duties and response-
bilities of service and care giving. It is the usual case that
women are the primary care-giver of their families. For some,
they are not only the primary care-giver of their nuclear fami-
lies, but also the extended families as well. Therefore, they
have to endure double stress from family and work. As Walk-
erdine claimed that being a female teacher is actually “an im-
possible fiction”. In Bitter Milk: Women and Teaching, Grumet
applies the bitter milk as a metaphor to reveal the paradox of
being a female teacher. Indeed, to be a teacher and a primary
care-giver of the family are both demanding and it is almost
beyond the capacity of a human. Psychosocial factors have
been considered largely responsible for the health problems
observed in female teachers.
Teachers’ job satisfaction has been recognized as extremely
important for implementing any type of education reform, for
involving the teacher in life-long learning, for the quality of the
teaching-learning process, and for satisfaction with life in ge-
neral. It is of great significance to reduce teachers’ stress and
increase their job satisfaction. What’s more, there may be dif-
ferences in trait coping style and social support between male
and female teachers because females tend to be more delicate
and sensitive than males. On the basis of these facts, the study
attempts to give a survey of the trait coping style, social support
in junior and senior middle school female teachers.
The psychological definition of coping is the process of
P. WANG ET AL. 221
managing taxing circumstances, expending effort to solve
personal and interpersonal problems, and seeking to master,
minimize, reduce or tolerate stress or conflict (Vitaliano, 1990)
Social support has been summarized as a network of indi-
viduals on whom one can rely for psychological or material
support to cope effectively with stress. Social support is
theorized to be offered in the form of instrumental support (i.e.,
material aid), appraisal/informational support (i.e., advice,
guidance, feedback), or emotional support (i.e., reassurane of
worth, empathy, affection) (Turner, 1983) Social support in this
paper is mainly concerned with the support related to support to
teachers’ work and life.
Perceived social support is support that an individual be-
lieves to be available, regardless of whether the support is
actually available. Actually, perceived support appears to cor-
relate more closely with health status than does actual social
support (Edgar & Rhonda, 2000: p. 920).
Social support is one of the most important factors in pre-
dicting the physical health and well-being of everyone, ranging
from children to adults. The well-being of people are sustained
through primary group ties, the absence of which may result in
a loss of identity, confusion and despair (Schwarzer & Leppin,
1991). In most cases, the absence of social support would harm
the physical and mental health among the impacted individuals.
The initial social support given is also a determining factor in
successfully overcoming the stress in everyday life. The pres-
ence of social support significantly predicts the individual’s
ability to cope with stress. Knowing that they are valued by
others is an important psychological factor in helping them to
forget the negative aspects of their lives, and thinking more
positively about their environment. Social support not only
helps improve a person’s well-being, it affects the immune
system as well (Taylor, et al., 2007). Thus, it is also a major
factor in preventing negative symptoms such as depresssion and
anxiety (Taylor, 2006). At the same time, the social support and
physical health are two of the crucial factors that help the over-
all well-being of individuals.
The study was carried out during 2010-2011 by selecting 320
female teachers randomly from ten junior and senior middle
schools in Wuhan urban areas to fill in the questionnaires. 300
questionnaires were collected, reaching a response rate of 93.75%.
Control group was divided into two groups. Control group 1
was an age-stratiﬁed random sample of male teachers in the
same school and 1:1 frequency-matched to the female teachers
within 5-year age groups and adjusted teaching course. Control
group 2 was an age-stratiﬁed random sample of women in Wu-
han (urban areas) identiﬁed by using random digit dialing.
Controls were randomly selected and 1:1 frequency-matched to
the female teachers within 5-year age groups and adjusted edu-
Face-to-face interviews were conducted. Interviewers were
trained in survey and mental assessment methods. The same
interviewer interviewed both cases and the age-matched con-
trols to reduce information bias. Information on demographic
characteristics (ethnicity, residence) was ascertained directly
from the subjects. All participants were interviewed with traits
coping style questionnaire (TCSQ) and social support rating
Participants completed questionnaires at baseline to assess
demographic and psychosocial variables. Questionnaires were
administered as following:
Social support was measured by the social support rating
scale (SSRS) (Wang, 1999). The SSRS, with10 items, is to
assess the scores of objective and subjective support, utility
degree of social support, and measures perceived availability
(the number of people the individual thinks he or she can count
on when necessary) and satisfaction with perceived social sup-
Coping style was measured by the trait coping style ques-
tionnaire (TCSQ) (Wang, 1999). The TCSQ composed of posi-
tive coping and negative coping, and each factor was respect-
tively composed of 10 items, the scores on coping styles were
assessed by the differences between the negative coping and
positive coping. The higher the scores, the more negative the
coping styles were. The extent to which each item has been
experienced is rated on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (very
positive) to 5 (very negative).
All data was carried out by SAS 9.0 software. Descriptive
statistics were calculated for all variables. Student t tests (for
continuous data), analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Spearman
Rank Correlation were used to assess differences between the
case and control groups. All tests of statistical signiﬁcance were
two-sided and considered as p ≤ 0.05.
Associations between each of the 6 independent variables in
2 independent questionnaires—traits coping style questionnaire
(TCSQ scores), and social support rating scale (SSRS scores)—
were examined separately at the different points of assessment.
Comparison of Female Teachers and National Norm.
Female teachers scaled significantly higher score on positive
coping (24.47 ± 4.71) than national norm (21.25 ± 7.14). t =
3.31, P = 0.001. (Wang, 1999) Female teachers scaled sig-
nificantly lower score on negative coping (12.51 ± 3.53) than
national norm (30.26 ± 8.74). t = 5.78, p = 0.000.
Female and male teachers and female workers on the scale
of TCSQ and SSRS (Table 1).
Female teachers got significantly lower score on positive
coping and higher negative coping than males, however, they
got significantly higher score on positive coping and lower
negative coping than female workers (F = 24.576, P < 0.05;
q0.05 = 4.77, q0.01 = 5.84, P < 0.05 respectively). Female teach-
ers scored significantly lower than male teachers but higher
than female workers on total scoe of social support, objective r
P. WANG ET AL.
Female and male teachers a nd female workers on the sca l e o f T C S Q a n d S S RS.
Questionn ai re Variable Case (n = 300) Case (n = 300) Control 2 (n = 300)
24.47 ± 4.71 26.52 ± 7.40 21.55 ± 5.22
12.51 ± 3.53 8.75 ± 4.45 15.89 ± 3.89
Total score of social su pport 40.77 ± 1.97 43.64 ± 1.76 35.02 ± 2.55
8.43 ± 2.22 11.36 ± 3.49 5.30 ± 1.76
24.90 ± 3.85 31.44 ± 4.67 18.87 ± 3.12
Utility degree of socia l s up por t 60.50 ± 7.97 65.67 ± 5.77 58.93 ± 7.78
and subjective support and utility degree of social support (F =
13.881, P < 0.05 q0.05 = 4.82, q0.01 = 5.76, P < 0.05 respec-
Comparison of female teachers between key and non-key
senior and junior middle schools scored on TCSQ and SSRS
There were no significant differences between female teach-
ers from senior and junior middle schools on coping style and
social support (p > 0.05 respectively). The female teachers from
key senior and junior middle schools got significantly higher
score than non-key senior and junior middle schools on positive
coping style and social support (q0.05 = 4.04, q0.01 = 5.65, p <
0.05 respectively). There were no significant differences be-
tween female teachers from both key and non-key senior or
junior schools on negative coping (q0.05 = 3.26, q0.01 = 4.75, P >
Comparison of female teachers of different age groups
scored on TCSQ and SSRS (Table 3).
There were no significant differences among different age
groups of female teachers on coping style and social support (p
> 0.05 respectively).
Female teachers of different titles scored on TCSQ and
SSRS (Table 4).
The female teachers with higher title and qualifications got
significantly lower score on negative coping and higher score
on positive coping and social support than female teachers with
lower title and qualifications and female workers. (rs = 0.8776,
P < 0.05 respectively).
Female teachers of different education level scored on
TCSQ and SSRS (Table 5).
The female teachers with master and bachelor degree got
significantly lower score on negative coping and higher score
on subjective support and utility degree of social support than
female workers (rs = 0.8043, p < 0.05 respectively).
The result of study showed that female teachers got higher
score on positive coping and lower score on negative coping
than national norm. In coping with different life events, female
teachers are more mature than average groups in the city. There
are some differences between female teachers in different
schools with different academic titles and qualifications.
To be human is to experience crisis. The reaction to the same
crisis differs from one to the other. The emotional experience is
as individual as the other characteristics of individuals. The
result of this study showed that female teachers got signifi-
cantly lower score on positive coping and higher negative cop-
ing than male teachers, however, they got significantly higher
score on positive coping and lower negative coping than female
workers. In coping with different life events, male teachers are
more mature than female ones. What’s more, the result of this
study showed that the female teachers of key senior and junior
middle schools got significantly higher score than those of
non-key senior and junior middle schools on coping style, and
that the female teachers with a higher title and professional
qualification got significantly lower score on negative coping
and higher score on positive coping than female teachers with a
lower title and professional qualification and female workers,
and that the female teachers with master and bachelor degree
got significantly lower score on negative coping than those
without master and bachelor degree, and there were no signifi-
cant differences among different age groups of female teachers
on coping style. In coping with pressure, female teachers are
able to solve problems by themselves. Specially, female teach-
ers with a high title and degree have more self-independence
and better anti-pressure when they have to face difficulties.
However, male teachers have better anti-pressure than female
teachers. Maybe it is because female teachers need to copy with
more household chores besides teaching. At the same time,
with the advancement of society and technology as well as the
reform and improvement of basic education curriculum, society,
school leaders and parents develop higher expectation and de-
mands for teachers including the quality of creative thinking,
good humanistic and other excellent qualities. Therefore, tea-
chers should improve themselves constantly in all-round way.
Not only female teachers have to face pressure from their work,
the assessment of teaching effectiveness, but also they should
face the pressure from their academic improvement. Thus, fe-
male teachers in middle schools, especially those with lower
degree and title could hardly endure additional pressure.
The result of this study showed that female teachers scored
significantly lower than male teachers but higher than female
workers on total score of social support, objective and subject-
P. WANG ET AL. 223
Comparison of female teachers of key and not key senior and junior schools scored on TCSQ and SSRS (
Questionnaire Variable Key Senior school Senior school Key junior schooljunior school F p
Positive coping 23.55 ± 7.75 22.07 ± 5.34 23.99 ± 5.98 21.99 ± 4.97 0.196 0.899
Negative coping 8.53 ± 3.24 8.56 ± 3.11 8.55 ± 3.12 8.54 ± 3.07 0.200 0.884
Total score of social support 46.53 ± 9.60 40.12 ± 5.65 47.24 ± 7.55 40.67 ± 6.13 12.1430.000
Objective support 13.11 ± 3.44 9.85 ± 1.20 13.23 ± 3.03 8.22 ± 2.43 10.7800.000
Subjective support 26.46 ± 3.14 20.88 ± 4.07 25.94 ± 3.33 21.01 ± 3.21 4.979 0.003
Utility degree of social support 64.80 ± 5.11 60.00 ± 5.98 65.11 ± 5.67 61.20 ± 5.76 3.451 0.017
Note: when P < 0.05, SNK test is done.
Comparison of female teachers of different age groups scor e d o n TCSQ and SSRS (
Questionnaire Variable ≤35(y) 36 - 45(y) 46 - 55(y) F p
Positive coping 23.12 ± 7.87 22.98 ± 6.97 23.06 ± 7.50 0.312 0.729
Negative coping 8.98 ± 4.12 9.01 ± 4.32 8.92 ± 4.09 0.300 0.741
Scale 44.53 ± 7.30 43.12 ± 6.66 43.29 ± 7.49 2.155 0.134
Objective support 12.11 ± 6.54 11.97 ± 7.27 12.20 ± 6.93 1.973 0.394
Subjective support 23.64 ± 4.71 22.98 ± 4.77 22.94 ± 4.73 3.316 0.413
Utility degree of social support 63.18 ± 5.21 62.98 ± 5.18 63.17 ± 5.67 0.153 0.936
Female teachers of different title scored onTCSQ and SSRS (
Questionnaire Variable Highest title High title Middle title low title
Positive coping 25.58 ± 9.63 24.79 ± 8.34 20.11 ± 7.12 21.02 ± 8.68
Negative coping 6.35 ± 6.76 6.56 ± 7.94 9.63 ± 6.18 9.54 ± 7.91
Scale 46.85 ± 8.60 47.12 ± 7.67 41.24 ± 7.59 41.60 ± 7.31
Objective support 13.74 ± 1.43 13.73 ± 2.01 9.01 ± 1.20 8.78 ± 1.44
Subjective support 26.68 ± 3.64 26.34 ± 3.88 20.67 ± 3.07 20.59 ± 3.12
Utility degree of social support 64.79 ± 6.73 65.19 ± 6.63 60.91 ± 5.98 61.20 ± 5.76
tive support and utility degree of social support. In China, with
the improvement of the social status of teachers, teachers feel
more support from family, friends and neighbors. But it can not
be ignored that men who are generally considered the more
important role in a family have higher degree of concern and
more readily support available from family members, especially
their wives. Female teachers have to face as intense competition
and pressure as male teachers, and take more care of their fami-
lies. They are busy and have little free time to relax and it
causes their psychological imbalance as to impact their rela-
P. WANG ET AL.
Female teachers of different education le v el scored on TCSQ and SSRS (
Questionnaire Variables Master Bachelor Junior college No degree
Positive coping 25.15 ± 8.34 24.97 ± 8.92 20.12 ± 8.14 19.92 ± 8.07
Negative coping 6.00 ± 4.46 6.16 ± 4.25 9.09 ± 5.14 8.93 ± 6.13
Scale 46.94 ± 7.61 47.03 ± 7.59 40.94 ± 7.67 41.01 ± 7.61
Objective support 13.35 ± 1.67 13.36 ± 2.01 8.97 ± 1.03 8.87 ± 1.14
Subjective support 27.32 ± 3.43 26.84 ± 3.52 20.16 ± 3.73 20.21 ± 3.65
Utility degree of social support 65.33 ± 6.22 65.24 ± 6.37 60.19 ± 5.53 59.97 ± 5.48
tionship with their family, colleagues and friends, and it also
causes a variety of discontentment. As a result, it is less likely
for them to feel the support form their family and community.
The result of this study showed that female teachers of key
senior and junior middle schools got significantly higher score
than non-key female teachers on social support. Parents do
hope that their children be admitted to key universities so that
teachers in key schools can be the focus of concern from com-
munity and feel respected. Teachers in non-key schools have to
manage many issues besides teaching by themselves. In addi-
tion, the teachers from non-key middle schools endure greater
pressure from examinations and academic qualifications than
teachers from key middle schools because of the poor basis of
the students. The result of this study showed that female teach-
ers with higher title and degree got significantly higher score on
social support than female teachers with lower title and degree
and female workers. Teachers with higher title and degree are
more likely to identify with community, schools and family
members. At present, government has begun to adopt the an-
nual appointment policy. Teachers with lower title and degree
are very likely to have a sense of insecurity and this add to their
physical and mental stress.
A large number of studies have confirmed that a good social
support can reduce the individual cognitive appraisal to pre-
ssure as to reduce hurt when individual face pressure (Knoll &
Schwarzer et al., 2009). Due to the lack of capacity to negative
emotional catharsis, the tensions linked to the strongest emotion
convey and derail in the body. The accumulation of repressed
negative energy can cause symptoms and psychosomatic dis-
eases. From physiological perspective, social support is to pro-
vide emotional support, and then affect the physiological pro-
cesses related to emotion, and improve the level of individual
physical health, as well as to enhance the organism’s immunity
so as to develop the individual tolerance to frustration and to
decrease physical and mental diseases. The sources of social
support is only a potential support, “perceived psychological
reality is psychological reality as the actual medi-variables to
impact human behavior and development” (Schwarzer & Knoll,
2007). Subjective support is more valued.
In summary, we believe that more attention should be paid to
the multi-factor of impact on female teachers’ mental health.
Therefore, community, schools and families should work to
improve female teachers’ mental health in middle schools.
Based on the occupational characteristics of female teachers in
middle schools, educational authorities and schools should
offer the corresponding help. For example: to afford continual
education to female teachers with lower title and degree, to
elevate their professional level so that they can have a sense of
self-fulfilment and are easy to identify themselves with com-
munity and family. Information support from their colleagues
(for example: providing certain necessary knowledge), practical
support (for example: helping to complete tasks), as well as
emotional support can enhance female teachers’ command to
the situation in work so as to reduce the level of pressure and
depersonalization and to improve the personal achievement and
performance (Esther & Ronald et al., 1997). The society
shouldn’t hold too high expectation for the teachers and teach-
ers should also have reasonable expectations of themselves
because teachers’ ability is limited. At the same time, teachers
should get opportunity to improve themselves constantly so as
to catch up with the advancement of the society. Female teach-
ers in middle schools should be provided regular mental health
counseling services to help and guide them to the establishment
of good interpersonal relationships and social support networks
in order to alleviate mental pressure, improve the mental health,
and improve their subjective support and utility degree of social
support as well. Female teachers should be encouraged to
communicate with leaders, colleagues, family members and
friends when they meet difficulties and pressure, and actively
set up and take social support in order to overcome difficulties
in work and life so as to maintain their physical and mental
Our study may have some dismerits as case-control studies
are notoriously susceptible to bias. We have tried to reduce
sampling bias by recruiting from ten different schools. To re-
duce reporting and measurement bias, we used two interviewers
and ensured that borderline events and difficulties were rated at
consensus meetings, and that equivocal stressors were rated by
a third person unaware of the objective of study. However, like
all case-control studies, it has potential limitations. For example,
the results could have been affected by recollection bias
because the women were asked to recall past feelings and
P. WANG ET AL. 225
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