Inequality in Intergenerational Closure As a Barrier to Social Capital Formation

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: Booth 42
Oral Presentation
Adam GAMORAN , William T. Grant Foundation, New York, NY

Intergenerational closure – a term coined by Coleman (1988) to represent a closed social network of parents and children – is a key marker of social participation, as it serves as a basis for social capital formation.  There are no financial barriers to intergenerational closure, so one may have expected to see similar levels across economic and ethnic groups.  Yet there may be social barriers, especially in diverse populations where young children’s friendships formed in school do not necessarily cross over to relations among their parents.  This paper examines economic and ethnic differences in intergenerational closure during the course of first grade.  Data come from a large-scale randomized trial in which 52 schools were randomly assigned to a family engagement program intended to boost social capital, or to a control group.  The schools are located in two U.S. communities with high proportions of Hispanic immigrants.  Comparison of treatment and control schools reveals differences between the “natural” development of social capital in the control schools and social capital formation stimulated by design in the treatment schools, with random assignment minimizing the confounding role of self-selection in social capital formation.  Key demographic differences linked to social capital formation include whether family members are English-dominant or Spanish-dominant Latinos, whites, or African Americans, and whether students are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch, or not.  Data are analyzed with multilevel models appropriate for the cluster-randomized design of the study.  Results indicate that families that were most disconnected prior to the intervention experienced the smallest gains from attending a school assigned to the intervention, suggesting that family engagement programs may not be an effective tool for breaking down social barriers to intergenerational closure.