Jespersen, B. V., Korbin, J. E., & Spilsbury, J. C. (2021). Older Neighbors and The Neighborhood Context of Child Well-Being: Pathways to Enhancing Social Capital for Children. American Journal of Community Psychology.
Summarized by Ariel Ervin
Notes of Interest:
- Researchers have become increasingly interested in exploring how the quality of neighborhood social networks affects youth well-being and development in recent decades.
- This study outlines specific pathways where older neighbors positively contribute to neighborhood quality for youth & families and the well-being of youth.
- Three pathways where parents positively associated older neighbors with neighborhood quality were identified.
- Support parents and children
- Promote neighborhood safety
- Contribute to neighborhood residential stability
- Findings indicate that older neighbors can strengthen the social capital of youth.
- They reportedly made positive contributions to neighborhood quality for youth & families.
- Non-kin older neighbors can be a positive influence on youth and families.
Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)
Drawing on Coleman’s concept of social capital, researchers have investigated how the quality of neighborhood social networks influences child development and well-being. The role of non-kin older neighbors in advancing child well-being through the enhancement of social capital, however, has been under-studied. Our objective was to delineate specific pathways through which non-kin older neighbors contribute to neighborhood quality for children and families and potentially advance child well-being. We examined open-ended interview data from 400 parents who cared for at least one child under 18 years of age and resided in 20 neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio. A subsample of 113 parents connected older neighbors to neighborhood quality for families and children in their narratives. Our analysis identified three primary pathways through which parents positively linked older neighbors to neighborhood quality: older neighbors support parents and children, promote neighborhood safety, and contribute to neighborhood residential stability. These contributions are evidence of intergenerational closure, reciprocated exchange, and informal social control working together to create social capital in neighborhoods for children. It is by enhancing social capital that older neighbors potentially improve child well-being. We discuss the implications of our findings for neighborhood research and practice.
Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)
The objective of this study was to delineate specific pathways through which non-kin older neighbors contribute to neighborhood quality for children and families and potentially advance child well-being. We found that parents primarily identified three ways older neighbors contribute to neighborhood quality for children and families: (1) supporting parents and children, (2) promoting safety, and (3) contributing to neighborhood stability. While these pathways linked older neighbors to neighborhood quality, they did not directly link the presence of older neighbors to positive health and developmental outcomes for children. These pathways reflect components of social capital, all of which have been implicated in child well-being.
The first pathway—older neighbors support parents and children—suggests that older neighbors may enhance social capital through reciprocated exchange and intergenerational closure. Older neighbors engaged in reciprocated exchange by babysitting, tending to children’s material and emotional needs, and alerting parents to their children’s activities. As previously discussed, greater opportunities to engage in social exchange are associated with better mental health outcomes for parents (Kesselring et al., 2012) and children (DuBois et al., 2002; Rotenberg et al., 2004), as well as decreased child maltreatment (Kim & Maguire-Jack, 2015). The activities of babysitting, tending to children’s needs, and alerting parents to children’s activities also overlap with intergenerational closure, in that older neighbors know neighborhood children and their parents. Parents described how older neighbors’ relationships with parents and children enabled older neighbors to inform parents of children’s activities and, when necessary, to compensate for perceived lack of parental supervision. Closure of social networks—meaning individuals are in contact with one another—is important for parents to be able to discuss, evaluate, and regulate children’s activities (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987). Moreover, intergenerational closure facilitates shared norms (Coleman, 1990) and generates social support for children (Sandefur & Laumann, 1998).
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