Child Social Capital and Health : The Protective and Promotive Effects of Social Capital on Child Health in Fragile Families




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Children’s living arrangements in the United States have changed for cohorts after the World War II baby boom. Traditional nuclear families are gradually being replaced by single-parent families, cohabiting families, and other family arrangements. By 2017, the non-marital birth rate in United States had increased to 40.0% and more than 24 million children under the age of 18 have been living with unmarried parents. The traditional nuclear family is gradually being replaced by the single-parent family, the cohabiting family, and other family types. Associated with this change are the changes in children’s health. Since unmarried parents tend to be socioeconomically disadvantaged, their children’s health is easily and adversely affected. This dissertation investigates children’s social capital and its role in health promotion. Specifically, this study focuses on children born to unmarried parents and measures their social capital in four different social contexts: family, neighborhood, school, and individual social activities. For each contextual social capital, the study aims to examine its promotive and protective effect: (1) whether social capital could help children to achieve optimal health outcomes; and (2) whether social capital could reduce parental socioeconomic disparities in children’s health. Extracting data from Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, this study constructed structural equation models to investigate proposed research questions. Measurement models were used to validate the measurement for variables of research interest, including parental socioeconomic status, children’s health, and four types of social capital. Then structural models estimation tested for health-promotive effects of social capital. Ultimately, multigroup structural equation models investigated the protective effects of social capital by comparing the structural coefficients, regressing children’s health on parental social status, across low and high social capital groups. The findings of this study suggest that social capital in all social settings help to boost children’s health. Alternatively, only social capital generated within a family or neighborhood can moderate the influence of parental socioeconomic status on children’s health. It further suggests that social capital could be considered as a remedy to mitigate social inequalities in children’s health, but it is not a panacea to fully address it.



Social capital (Sociology), Children -- Health and hygiene, Socioeconomic status, Families -- Health and hygiene, Unmarried couples


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