How Religious, Social, and Cultural Capital Factors Influence Educational Aspirations of African American Adolescents

Article excerpt

Data from 2008 Monitoring the Future were used to test how well religious, family, and cultural social capital influenced 8th and 10th grade student aspirations, future plans, and prior academic experience. This study focused only on a sample of 4,273 African American students. Results indicated a strong association between family social capital and religious social capital and both emerged as the strongest predictor of student's college ambitions and future goals. Moreover, students with higher levels of cultural capital have a more positive view of their past year's academic performance. In most cases, these effects are even more pronounced for males than for females.

Keywords: African American, adolescents, social capital, religion, family

The rise of social capital as a major explanatory factor in educational attainment studies indicate the need to explore how it influences postsecondary student aspirations. The purpose of this study is to test how various forms of social capital influence African American 8th and 10th grade student aspirations. Putnam (1995), defined social capital as the ". . . features of social life - networks, norms, and trust - that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives (pp. 664-665)." Portes (1998) succinctly described the concept by way of comparison to other forms of capital, "Whereas economic capital is in people's bank accounts and human capital is inside their heads, social capital inheres in the structure of their relationships (p. 7)." Social capital, as a concept, is not new to sociology where there has been a long tradition of exploring the integration process of individuals into social networks and communities (Portes, 1998; Putnam, 2000). Furthermore, social scientists have long recognized that social institutions such as the family and religion are sources for generating social capital that can translate into human capital gains for students.

The concept of social capital is complex and multi-dimensional. Because of this complexity, in this study, the authors will use a multi-faceted approach to discuss social capital and its influence on African American student's educational aspirations, future outlook, and academic experience. The three dimensions of social capital explored are (a) religious social capital, (b) family social capital, and (c) cultural capital. Engagement in cultural events, use of media and similar activities are commonly thought to be aspects of cultural capital. In this study, the label of cultural capital is used but treated as a form of individual informal social capital.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Religious Social Capital

The church is an important societal institotion where social capital is generated. This is especially true for African Americans where the church is seen as a "one-stop" shop for learning how to negotiate various aspects of life such as gaining civic and educational skills (Billingsley & Caldwell, 1991; Harris, 2003; Putnam, 2000; Smidt, 2003). Commenting on the importance of the church to African Americans, Gunnar Myrdal (1944) wrote, "The Negro church is a community center par excellence (p. 938, emphasis in the original)."

A number of studies have focused on the positive influence religion has on student academic achievement (Brown & Gary, 1991; Byfield, 2008; Glanville, Sikkink, & Hernández, 2008; Greeley, 1963; Jeynes, 2003; Mueller, 1980; Muller & Ellison, 2001; Putnam, 2000; Smidt, 2003). In the past, much of this research involved researchers debating one another about whether one denomination was more academically oriented tiian another (Jackson, Fox, & Crockett, 1970; Greeley, 1963; Mueller, 1980; Rhodes & Nam, 1970). Often results were mixed. More recent research, however, has moved past denomination and has focused on other aspects of religion to explain student educational outcomes such as religiosity (Brown & Gary, 1991), attendance (Byfield, 2008; Musick, Wilson, & Bynum, 2000; Régneras, 2000), commitment (Jeynes, 2003), and various dimensions of religion (Byfield, 2008). …