How children create and use social capital : a test of an ecological-transactional model



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The aims of this study were to examine the relations among social capital, human capital, economic capital, and children’s socioemotional well-being during the transition from late childhood to early adolescence and to test an ecological-transactional model of children’s social capital. This work was informed by sociological and economic theory on social capital, human capital, and economic capital (e.g., Becker, 1993; Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988; Foster, 2002) and two principal frameworks in developmental psychology: ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998) and the transactional model of child development (Sameroff, 2009). Social capital was conceptualized as both a family-level and a community-level phenomenon, distinguishing between family social capital and community social capital. A major hypothesis was that family social capital and community social capital, alongside family-level human capital and economic capital, are associated with low levels of socioemotional problems. Family-level variables were considered to be nested within the more distal ecological context of community social capital, and the indirect relation of community social capital to socioemotional well-being through family social capital was also considered. Another postulation was that children’s socioemotional well-being and the social capital that inheres in family relationships (i.e., family social capital) are mutually influential, changing over time in a transactional manner. In this vein, children were regarded as agents of social capital, both “creating” and utilizing it to their developmental benefit (or detriment as the case may be). These family-level transactional processes were nested within the context of community social capital. Results indicated that community social capital had little association with family social capital and children’s socioemotional well-being as indexed by internalizing and externalizing problems. However, caregivers’ human capital and economic capital were significant predictors of family social capital. In turn, family social capital was strongly related to socioemotional problems. Notably, harsh parenting behavior, a measure indicative of the health of the caregiver-child relation and thus the potential for social capital to be realized in their interactions, was the strongest predictor of socioemotional well-being.