Social capital and vulnerable urban youth in five global cities

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Purpose: Social capital is essential for the successful development of young people. The current study examines direct measures of social capital in young people in five urban global contexts. Methods: The Well-Being of Adolescents in Vulnerable Environments is a global study of young people aged 15–19 years living in disadvantaged, urban settings. Respondent-driven sampling was used to recruit approximately 500 participants from each site. The sample included 2,339 young people (mean age 16.7 years; 47.5% female). We examined the associations between social capital in four domains—family, school, peers, and neighborhood and demographic characteristics—using gender-stratified ordinary least-squares regression. We also examined associations between self-reported health and the four social capital domains, which was minimal. Results: School enrollment was positively associated with social capital for young women in Baltimore, Delhi, and Shanghai; the association was less consistent for young men. The same pattern is true for perceived wealth. Unstable housing was associated with low familial social capital in all groups except young women in Shanghai and young men in Ibadan and Johannesburg. Being raised outside a two-parent family has a widespread, negative association with social capital. Self-reported health had a mainly positive association with social capital with the most consistent association being neighborhood social capital. Conclusions: Different types of social capital interact with social contexts and gender differently. Strategies that aim to build social capital as part of risk reduction and positive youth development programming need to recognize that social capital enhancement may work differently for different groups and in different settings.