Can peer & near-peer social capital enhance emerging adults’ educational & career-related goals?

Boat, A. A., Miranda, A., & Syvertsen, A. K. (2022). Enhancing Education and Career Pathways Through Peer and Near-Peer Social Capital. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 51(7), 1287–1304.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although social capital is known for assisting individuals with achieving their goals, research on this subject primarily examines the social capital youths receive from their parents.
  • This study assesses the extent peer or near-peer social capital help emerging adults of color with pursuing and achieving their educational & career-related goals.
  • It also explores how peer or near-peer social capital affected emerging adults’ commitment to pay it forward and have the collective efficacy to change systems.
  • Peer social capital indirectly correlated with greater self-initiated social capital which, in turn, correlated with educational and career-related goals.
  • Near-peer social capital directly and indirectly correlated with all of the study outcomes.
  • Both peer and near-peer social capital correlated with emerging adults’ commitment to paying it forward and having the collective efficacy to change systems
  • It is essential for programs and organizations to have a nuanced understanding of a young person’s social network – every individual relationship provides support in different ways.
  • Interventions can strengthen their programming by boosting young people’s autonomy and ability to use their peer networks to achieve their goals.

*= refers to how active an individual is in mobilizing their social capital to pursue their goals.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Social capital strengthens emerging adults’ ability to reach life goals, but little is known about how peers and near-peers (slightly older and/or more experienced peers who serve in mentorship or coaching roles) support social capital development especially among young people of color. To address this gap, the current study examined how social capital derived from peers and near-peers contributes to emerging adults’ ability to actively mobilize social capital in pursuit of their education or career goals (i.e., self-initiated social capital) and, in turn, their education and career outcomes. A total of 841 emerging adults who participated in one of five community-based education and/or workforce support programs were surveyed (72% female; Mage = 20.1, SD = 1.84; 35% Latinx, 30% Black, 19% Asian, 16% Other). Peer social capital was indirectly associated with outcomes (i.e., progress towards education/career goals, commitment to paying-it-forward, collective efficacy to change systems) via greater self-initiated social capital, whereas near-peer social capital was both directly and indirectly associated with outcomes. The mechanisms by which peer and near-peer social capital support emerging adults as they work towards their goals may differ and have important program implications.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Workforce and education support programs are often designed to provide greater access to high-quality relationships and resources (i.e. social capital) that are believed to support emerging adults navigate education and career opportunities. Yet, little is understood about the mechanism through which social capital strengthens education and/or career outcomes and how different types of peer relationships contribute to these outcomes. The current study examined the pathway through which peer and near-peer social capital are associated with emerging adults’ progress towards education and/or career goals, commitment to paying-it-forward, and collective efficacy to change systems. The results showed support for a full mediational model, where peer social capital was associated with greater self-initiated social capital, and in turn, was positively associated with outcomes. A partial mediational model was found for near-peer social capital, such that near-peer social capital had a direct and indirect effect on all three outcomes. This suggests that both peer and near-peer social capital support young adults as they work towards their goals and may do so through different pathways. While the pattern of findings was fairly consistent, exploratory analyses suggest that some mediation effects may vary among emerging adults from different racial/ethnic backgrounds and across education and workforce support programs.

While a strong body of evidence shows that positive peer relationships and strong peer networks are associated with academic achievement (Berthelon et al., 2019) and a successful school-to-career transition (Ruschoff et al., 2018), the current study provides empirical insights on the mechanism through which peer social capital may strengthen these outcomes. Peer social capital did not have a direct effect on education and career outcomes, but did so indirectly through self-initiated social capital. Past research establishes the important role peers play in the provision of emotional and social support (Wang & Eccles, 2012), which is foundational for increasing young people’s agency and confidence both in the global sense and in utilizing their relationships and resources in pursuit of their goals (i.e., self-initiated social capital). For example, past research shows that strong peer networks are associated with: young people’s willingness to seek help (Menna & Ruck, 2004); feelings of collective efficacy, social responsibility, and civic engagement (Flanagan, 2013; Wray-Lake & Abrams, 2020); and, that greater peer social support is associated with greater social engagement (i.e., motivation to interact with others; Scanlon et al., 2020). Similarly, another study showed that peers’ efficacy beliefs were positively associated with young people’s engagement in job search activities (i.e., a greater number of applications completed) and indirectly associated with their job search outcomes (Ruschoff et al., 2018). Thus, peers may be uniquely situated to increase emerging adults’ self-initiated social capital, which is in turn strongly associated with education and career outcomes.

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