A Little Help from My Friend's Parents: Intergenerational Closure and Educational Outcomes

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<ul><li><p>A Little Help from My Friend's Parents: Intergenerational Closure and Educational OutcomesAuthor(s): William J. CarbonaroSource: Sociology of Education, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Oct., 1998), pp. 295-313Published by: American Sociological AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2673172 .Accessed: 28/06/2014 07:43</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.</p><p> .</p><p>American Sociological Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access toSociology of Education.</p><p>http://www.jstor.org </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:43:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=asahttp://www.jstor.org/stable/2673172?origin=JSTOR-pdfhttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsphttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>A Little Help from My Friend's Parents: </p><p>Intergenerational Closure and Educational Outcomes </p><p>William J. Carbonaro University of Wisconsin-Madison </p><p>Coleman's theory of social capital predicts that students who have high levels of "intergenerational closure'-that is, whose parents know more of their chil- dren's friends' parents-will have better educational outcomes than will stu- dents with low levels of intergenerational closure. This study used datafrom the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 to test whether intergenerational closure affects children's educational outcomes. The main findings were that closure was positively associated with mathematics achievement, but not signif- icantly associated with achievement in any other subject, closure was not sig- nificantly associated with 12th-grade grade point averages, and students with more closure were less likely to drop out of high school by the 12th grade. </p><p>M any researchers have exam- ined the different ways in which parents influence stu- </p><p>dents' performance in school. Some prominent examples include the impact of social class (Heyns 1978; Jencks et al. 1972; Kohn 1977; Shavit and Blossfeld 1993), social psychological influences (Sewell, Haller, and Ohlendorf 1970; Sewell, Haller, and Portes 1969), parental involvement at home and school (Clark 1983; Ho and Willms 1996; Lareau 1989), and sociolinguistic practices (Bernstein 1975; Heath 1983). Some researchers have hypothesized that social capital-the quantity and quality of relationships among parents, their children, and other adults in the community-is also an important determinant of student outcomes (Coleman 1987, 1990; Coleman and Hoffer 1987; Loury 1977). </p><p>In my study, I investigated whether a specific set of social rela- tionships discussed by Coleman </p><p>(1990, 1991)-whether parents know the parents of their children's friends, which he labeled intergener- ational closure-influences students' outcomes. My central research ques- tion was whether higher levels of intergenerational closure among stu- dents, their friends, their parents, and their friends' parents influence educational outcomes for students. In addition, and perhaps more important, I investigated the factors that may underlie any observed rela- tionships between intergenerational closure and educational outcomes. </p><p>IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL CAPITAL </p><p>Traditionally, economists have emphasized the importance of human capital for individual prosper- ity (Becker 1964; Schultz 196 1). More recently, some sociologists have argued that another important resource, social capital, can also shape a person's life chances. Loury </p><p>SOCIOLOGY OF EDUCATION 1998, VOL. 71 (OCTOBER): 295-313 295 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:43:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>296 Carbonaro </p><p>(1977) introduced the term to describe the familial and communal resources that promote children's cognitive or social development. Coleman (1990:302) defined social capital as a "social structural resource" that serves as a "capital asset for the individual" and facili- tates certain actions and outcomes for those who occupy a given social structure. Trust, obligations and expectations, norms, relations of authority, and shared information are all examples of social capital because they are resources that arise from the social relations of individu- als who share membership in a com- mon social structure. </p><p>These resources allow actors to improve their performance in a vari- ety of activities in which they engage. For example, trust and sharing valu- able information can lower the costs of ensuring compliance with contrac- tual agreements among economic actors (Williamson 1981); high expectations for students can pro- duce behavior that is consistent with those expectations and may lead to desired educational outcomes; and mutual obligations between employ- ers and employees can mitigate adversarial attitudes in the work- place, which can reduce productivity. Although both human and social capital can enhance productivity, human capital is possessed by indi- viduals, whereas social capital exists in the relationships between people. </p><p>Coleman (1990) emphasized that social networks that are character- ized by closure can more easily gen- erate social capital. By "closure," he meant that individuals are in contact with others, so information can be gathered, and common expectations and norms can be enforced through the use of sanctions and rewards. These connections among individuals serve to strengthen the level of social capital that exists between them. To </p><p>use Coleman and Hoffer's (1987) example, "intergenerational closure" exists when Parent A, mother of Child a, knows Parent B, mother of child a's friend Child b. When Parent A and Parent B know each other, they can </p><p>set norms and standards for their children, and are not vulnerable to their children's exploitation of what rules exist for other children. In addi- tion, Parent A can provide support for Child b when necessary, and can sometimes serve as a bridge if the child's communication with his or her. parent has broken down. (Coleman 199 1: 1 1) </p><p>When social networks lack closure, parents lose an important resource for dealing with their children. According to Coleman and Hoffer (1987:226), such parents "are not in a position to discuss their children's activities, to develop common evalua- tions of these activities, and to exer- cise sanctions that guide and con- strain these activities." </p><p>How may intergenerational clo- sure have an impact on students' educational outcomes? For instance, two students (Alan and Bob) devise a plan to skip school; Alan tells his mother that Bob's mother will drive him to school, and Bob tells his mother that Alan's mother will do the same. Both parents are deceived (thinking the other will drive Alan and Bob to school), and Alan and Bob meet at the mall and spend the day there. If Alan's and Bob's parents know each other and communicate with each other frequently, the sub- terfuge will be discovered and sanc- tions will be applied. Thus, in this example, a high degree of intergener- ational closure will allow commonly held norms to be enforced through shared information resulting from frequent social contact. </p><p>If Alan and Bob regularly miss </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:43:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>Intergenerational Closure and Educational Outcomes 297 </p><p>school through such schemes, their educational careers may be adversely affected. High rates of truancy and absenteeism are often associated with a higher likelihood of dropping out of school (Wehlage and Rutter 1986). Also, by skipping school fre- quently, Alan and Bob will miss out on lessons, which may adversely affect their grades and achievement levels, both of which are associated with dropping out (Rumberger 1987). </p><p>One could easily think of other examples of behaviors that are detri- mental to students' success in school that might be affected by closure. For example, students who engage in deviant behavior in school (like cut- ting classes and breaking school rules) may be able to keep their par- ents from finding out about it if the parents do not have frequent contact with their children's friends' parents. Furthermore, parents can use their children's friends' parents as an important resource in assessing whether their children's peers have goals and aspirations that are con- sistent with the ones they hold for their children. Thus, parents can more easily determine whether their children are hanging out with the wrong crowd and intervene (if neces- sary). These examples illustrate that intergenerational closure may cru- cially affect many important factors that ultimately influence numerous educational outcomes for students. </p><p>EVIDENCE OF COLEMAN'S CLAIMS </p><p>What evidence is there to support Coleman's claims about the link among social capital, intergenera- tional closure, and educational out- comes? There is certainly a good deal of evidence to support the claim that strong connections between parents and students enhance students' edu- cational outcomes. Ethnographers, </p><p>such as Clark (1983), have found that poor children whose parents were more involved in their children's schoolwork and emphasized good study habits were more successful in school than their counterparts whose parents were less concerned with their children's schooling (see also Comer 1988; Williams and Komblum 1985). </p><p>Lareau (1989) stated that first- grade students of middle-class pro- fessional parents benefited from a high degree of parental involvement both at home and in school. By tai- loring educational programs to their children's needs, offering extensive help for their children at home, and taking an active interest in their chil- dren's early careers, these parents gave their children a decided advan- tage in school over the children of working-class parents. Ho and Willms (1996) found that more home discussion of school-related matters between parents and their children had a positive effect on eighth-grade reading and mathematics achieve- ment. </p><p>Researchers have also found that increased levels of "parental support" (such as the presence of study aids at home; differences in parenting styles; and parents' monitoring of their children, reactions to grades, and involvement in academic mat- ters) encourage students to finish high school (Ekstrom Goertz, Pollack, and Rock 1986; Rumberger, Ghatak, Poulos, Ritter, and Dornbusch 1990). </p><p>The Wisconsin model of status attainment (Sewell et al. 1969) emphasized the importance of "sig- nificant others" (defined as parents, teachers, and close friends) in engen- dering expectations that shape the educational and occupational attain- ment of young people. This body of research found that students who have significant others with high aspirations serve as models for other </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 07:43:03 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp</p></li><li><p>298 Carbonaro </p><p>students who increase their own educational aspirations. High levels of aspirations positively affect educa- tional performance and ultimately enhance an individual's level of edu- cational and occupational attainment (Sewell et al. 1970; see Alexander, Eckland, and Griffin 1975, and Jencks, Crouse, and Mueser 1983 for replications that support the find- ings of the Wisconsin model). Thus, the Wisconsin model suggested that parents, teachers, and peers play a crucial role in shaping educational outcomes for students. </p><p>Clearly, the findings of a sub- stantial amount of research support Coleman's claims about the impor- tance of social capital for students. However, one may question whether Coleman discovered something new or merely "put old wine in new bot- tles," as one commentator charged (Brown 1991:566). Much of Coleman's discussion of social capi- tal among parents, students, and other members of the community did not differ substantially from the con- nections earlier researchers had made. Indeed, Coleman's measures of social capital were similar to those used by previous researchers, including parental involvement with the school, parental expectations, and the degree of communication between parents and their children (see Coleman and Hoffer 1987). Thus, Coleman may have popular- ized a unique way of thinking about these behaviors (labeled social capi- tal in contrast to human capital), but it is not clear that he gained new insights on these behaviors. </p><p>However, I believe that Coleman's notion of intergenerational closure is an original conceptual contribution. Previous research did not focus on the extent to which relations among parents, children, c'hildren's friends, and friends' parents constitute net- works that gather information, form </p><p>norms and expectations, and enforce standards of behavior. Unfortunate- ly, Coleman and Hoffer's (1987) study provided no measure of inter- generational closure, and these authors' statements on this aspect of social capital are hypotheses based on theory, rather than empirically grounded assertions. In their study of Catholic schools, Bryk, Lee, and Holland (1993) reported that their field observations of Catholic schools did not support Coleman and Hoffer's hypothesis, but they did not provide any quantitative evidence to refute Colman and Hoffer's claims. </p><p>In short, the aspect of Coleman's theory of social capital that is the least original has been relatively well researched, but the most novel aspect of his theory still awaits empirical testing. My goal was to take a first step in testing Coleman's theory of intergenerational closure. Data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) of 1988 allowed me to do so because it included information on whether parents knew their children's friends' parents. By using this information, I assessed whether closure has any impact on students' educational out- comes, and if so, how closure oper- ates in influencing those outcomes. </p><p>METHODS </p><p>Data Set </p><p>The data set used in NELS is a two-stage stratified cluster sample. In 1988, 24,599 8th-grade students were surveyed to generate a national- ly representative sample of 8th graders. The students were resur- veyed in 1990 and 1992 (the 10th and 12th grades) to make longitudi- nal analyses possible. Dropouts were included in both follow-ups. Parents were surveyed in the base year and the second follow-up, but n...</p></li></ul>