The Dynamics of Social Support Inequality: Maintenance Gaps by Socioeconomic Status and Race?
Author(s): Markus H. Schafer, Nicholas Vargas
Abstract: A vast literature demonstrates how personal networks mirror and reproduce broader patterns of social inequality. The availability of key resources through informal mechanisms is an important way that high-status Americans retain a host of social advantages. Largely absent from this account of social capital inequality, however, is an explicit temporal dimension. The current article addresses that gap by targeting the dynamic nature of personal networks. Specifically, we consider whether race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES) are associated with how US adults’ resource-providing ties persist or vanish between two time points. Using panel data from the Portraits of American Life Study, we find that non-Whites and lower-SES Americans tend to receive useful advice and practical help from fewer close ties than do White and higher-SES adults, while Black Americans are especially likely to receive financial assistance from their network members. Models fail to indicate that non-Whites lose these resourceful ties at a disproportionate rate over time. On the other hand, we find that income has a robust association with the ability to retain ties initially providing advice and help. We interpret the latter findings as a temporal manifestation of network-based inequality. The maintenance gap between higher- and lower-SES Americans, we argue, can reinforce other social capital disparities by shaping dependable access to important resources and by altering their ability to effectively mobilize resources. Network maintenance is a concept that could be useful to researchers studying how social capital matters for a variety of instrumental and expressive outcomes.
Publication Title: Social Forces, Vol. 94(4)
Pub Year: 2016
Pages: 1795 – 1822
Keywords: status, socioeconomic status

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