Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Social Networks and Prestige Attainment: New Empirical Findings

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Social Networks and Prestige Attainment: New Empirical Findings

Article excerpt

MICHAEL DAVERN [*]

ABSTRACT. Several hypotheses are derived that relate social networks to the occupational prestige attainment process. These hypotheses are evaluated using theoretically derived indicators and ordinary least squares regression. Most of the hypotheses considered in this paper do not receive support, and the one hypothesis that does lacks a consistent theoretical explanation. From this analysis, I draw two important conclusions: First, the relationship between the prestige of a social network contact and prestige attainment may be empirically strong, but the theoretical explanation linking them lacks consistency. Secondly, empirical work performed to test social network theories should no longer focus on dyadic data alone. The broader implications of these conclusions for future research are considered.

I

Introduction

SOCIAL NETWORKS ARE USED EXTENSIVELY by job seekers to find employment, and they are also used by employers to obtain information regarding potential employees (Granovetter 1994; Montgomery 1991, 1992). Sociologists have developed many theoretical mechanisms that predict an association between the use of social network ties and labor market outcomes. These theoretical mechanisms generally fall into two broad categories. The first category of mechanisms deals with the influence a prospective job seeker can mobilize through using their social network ties, and the second category of mechanisms deals with the information that can be channeled through social networks to job seekers. The basic difference between the two mechanisms is that social networks can be seen as sources that provide information about jobs or social network contacts can be seen as providing the influence necessary to obtain jobs.

Past research on the two theoretical mechanisms and their relation to individual labor market outcomes has found little or no difference in wage attainment, but has found a substantial effect in the prestige attainment process. "The results regarding wage effects do not provide evidence of widespread wage gains made through information or influence channels (Corcoran, Datcher, & Duncan 1980, p. 35)," This conclusion concerning the effect of social networks on wages has been supported elsewhere as well (Degraaf & Flap 1988; Marsden & Hurlbert 1988). However, many studies have found that the mechanisms of influence and information do produce differences in the job prestige level an individual attains (e.g. Flap & Degraaf 1986; Marsden & Hurlbert 1988; Wegener 1991). Despite the consensus that social networks affect the prestige attainment process, there is still a considerable amount of disagreement about how social networks produce variation in prestige outcomes.

In this paper, I examine the theories that relate the mechanisms of influence and information to prestige attainment and develop testable hypotheses. These hypotheses are tested using data from the 1970 Detroit Area Study. This data set is used because other available data do not contain the necessary items needed to study empirically the elaborated theoretical models proposed in this paper. [1]

Only the theoretically essential variables are used in the analyses along with only two control variables. This procedure is an attempt to determine a parsimonious model of the relationship between prestige attainment and social networks. If the theories are not supported by such an analysis, chances are they will not be supported by a more inclusive model in which more variables are allowed to account for the limited variance in the measure of prestige attainment.

II

Information and Influence

THIS PAPER FOCUSES ON TWO broad mechanisms that allegedly produce differential prestige outcomes in the labor market. The information mechanism represents social networks as conduits of information. Concepts such as weak ties, and symmetry of information flow, are theorized to provide benefits that produce gains in job prestige for those who make use of them (Granovetter 1973, 1974; Montgomery 1991, 1992, 1994; Wegener 1991). …

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