Which characteristics predict the type of informal mentoring youth receive?

Gowdy, G., Fruiht, V., Tadese, H., & Rivera, M. (2022). One of these things is not like the other: Predictors of core and capital mentoring in adolescence. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12627

Summarized by Megyn Jasman

Notes of Interest: 

  • Which characteristics predict the type of informal mentoring youth receive? Compared to formal mentoring relationships, informal mentoring relationships develop naturally through established social networks.
  • Evidence indicates that informal mentorships promote a variety of positive outcomes.
  • Notably, there are gaps in the accessibility of informal mentors and different experiences may lead to different types of informal mentorships.
  • A new field of research has identified two different types of informal mentorships (Gowdy & Spencer, 2021):
    • Core Mentoring Relationships: proximal relationships, mainly with extended family members, providing emotional support
    • Capital Mentoring Relationships: non-familial relationships, providing guidance and advice rather than emotional support
  • This longitudinal study examined sociodemographic predictors for the type of informal mentoring youth receive.
    • Utilized the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) to achieve a nationally representative sample.
  • Results demonstrated gender, race, and vocabulary test scores to predict the type of informal mentorship:
    • Higher youth vocabulary test scores were the biggest predictor of capital mentoring.
    • Black non-Hispanic mentees were more likely to receive core mentoring.
    • Female mentees were also more likely to receive core mentoring. However, there were inconsistencies across the analyses run.
    • Advantaged youth (more accessibility to resources) were more likely to receive capital mentoring, except for Hispanic youth with highly-educated parents.
  • Generalization for sociodemographic groups should be used cautiously.
  • There are implications for fostering capital mentorships for disadvantaged youth, while also maintaining already-established core mentorships.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Informal mentoring has many demonstrated impacts on young people, including increased educational attainment, economic mobility, and both physical and mental health. Emerging work on a typology within informal mentoring suggests that “core” mentors are often extended family members and provide emotional support, while “capital” mentors are connected to formal institutions and provide valued advice and social capital. The present paper contributes to this emerging body of work by examining which qualities of a young person and their environment lead to core versus capital mentoring using a nationally representative sample of youth (N = 4226). Using both a series of regression analyses and conditional inference trees, findings demonstrate the importance of racial‐ethnic identity and socioeconomic status. Peabody Picture Vocabulary score, a likely indicator of socioeconomic resources, was consistently a robust indicator of capital mentoring. Implications for both practice and research are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Access to mentoring relationships in adolescence can promote success and well-being during the transition to adulthood. Both core mentoring from a caring adult committed to promoting socioemotional well-being, and capital mentoring that generally comes from more distal connections who support academic and vocational development, can be rich assets for young people (Gowdy & Spencer, 2021). The present study aimed to identify the characteristics of youth who access more core versus capital mentoring to best identify areas for support and intervention. Findings demonstrate that participants’ scores on a vocabulary test taken in adolescence were across the board the best predictor of capital mentoring. Furthermore, Black participants and females were more likely to receive core mentoring. Analyses investigating the unique predictors of core and capital mentoring among participants of different races shed some light on parental and neighborhood resources that may promote different types of mentoring, generally supporting prior findings that youth with more resources are more likely to report a more distal mentor (Fruiht et al., 2022; Raposa et al., 2018) who provides more academic/vocational support.

Across both analytic strategies, Peabody Picture Vocabulary scores were the most consistent predictor of capital mentoring. That is, participants who had a stronger vocabulary in adolescence were more likely to report a capital mentor. Instead of translating this at face value, however, literature tells us to focus on the socioeconomic differences in vocabulary scores. Indeed, differences in vocabulary by socioeconomic status can be seen in children as young as 18 months (Fernald et al., 2012). The vocabulary measure for this study was collected during Wave 1, when participants were between 11 and 19 years old, meaning that the socioeconomic differences among our sample youth have likely shown themselves in differences in vocabulary scores. This then retranslates our most consistent finding as capital mentoring being most available to students of higher socioeconomic status, a finding in alignment with previous research (Gowdy & Spencer, 2021).

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