Measuring and Indigenizing Social Capital in Relation to Children's Street Work in Mexico: The Role of Culture in Shaping Social Capital Indicators

Article excerpt

Drawing from social capital theory, this study assessed the relevance qf existing conceptions of social capital--largely from the United States and Canada--in the Mexican context, in an effort to contribute novel variables to the street-children literature. Using a cross-sectional survey design, 204 mothers of street-working and non-working children were interviewed within one community in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Factor analysis was used to corroborate the internal construct validity of two dimensions of social capital: family social capital and community social capital. Findings reveal that culture can play an influential role in how social capital indicators are defined and measured.

Key words: children's street work, family social capital, community social capital, factor analysis

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Latin America faces a critical challenge as explosive urbanization, poverty, overcrowded cities, unequal distribution of wealth, and the effects of globalizing the market-oriented economy have contributed to an increase in the number of children who migrate to the streets to supplement their family's income as well as to survive. In many countries throughout the region, common catalysts like rapid urban population growth and urban poverty have prompted the numbers of street-working and street-living children to soar (Connolly, 1990; Peralta, 1995; De la Barra, 1998). While the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are more than 100 million children who live and work on the streets in the developing world, Latin America is home to 40 million of the total street-children population (Covenant House, 1999).

To gain a deeper understanding of the movement of children into the streets to meet their basic human needs, researchers across multiple disciplines, including social work, psychology, sociology, public health, medicine and law, have sought to identify and measure the associated risk factors. Individual and familial precipitating factors, or microfactors, include such influences as school dropout and family poverty (Martinez & Silva, 1998; Raffaelli, 1996; Wittig, 1994). Structural influences, or macrofactors, include poverty, urbanization, external debt and inconsistencies between macroeconomic and social policies (Connolly, 1990; De la Barra, 1998; Fallon & Tzannotos, 1998). Community influences, or mezzofactors, are less clear within the literature, as the intrafamilial and family-community influences related to children's street work have largely been overlooked in prior studies. Rather, the traditional focal points with this population have been the intrapersonal and familial demographic risk factors, as well as the structural risk factors. To gain a more holistic understanding of this social phenomenon, it is vital for researchers to consider the mezzosocial influences as well, such as the nature of the relationships that occur between and among families, and how these may influence children's street work. Thus, this study focuses on the mezzosocial environment and on defining and measuring the relationships and interactions that transpire there.

In an effort to understand the effects of family- and community-based social relationships on an array of outcomes, the social capital framework has frequently been adopted as a means to further explore the intricacies of social interactions. According to Coleman (1988), family social capital refers to the relationships between parents and their children, which encompass the time, efforts, resources and energy that parents invest in their children. In contrast, exterior social capital--or community social capital--represents the family's interactions and relationships with the surrounding community, both with residents as well as with local institutions of socialization, such as schools (Putnam, 2000). Although at present there are no empirical precedents exploring the effects of social capital on the migration of children into the streets to work, considerable research does exist indicating the influence of social capital on children's well-being. …