Can Social Capital Explain Persistent Racial Poverty Gaps?

June 2006

Lincoln Quillian, Northwestern University; Rozlyn Redd, University of Wisconsin at Madison

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This paper investigates the role of social capital in understanding persistent racial gaps in poverty rates in the United States. We outline a general logic of social capital explanations of racial poverty gaps through the advantage or disadvantage resulting from racial inequality coupled with segregation or homophily in social life. We then focus on four forms of social capital as the most promising social capital explanations relevant to persistent racial gaps in poverty: job search networks; neighborhood collective efficacy; ethnic social capital; and school friendship networks. We review the literature on each form of social capital, supplemented with statistical analysis using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Our conclusion is that existing evidence points toward neighborhood collective efficacy, ethnic social capital, and peer networks as the more important social capital explanations for understanding racial differences in poverty, often in interaction with non-social capital factors, but that we must also look beyond social capital to understand racial differences in poverty rates overall.

Poverty Trends and Measurement, Race and Ethnicity