Sociology, Department of
Isolation, cohesion and contingent network effects: the case of school attachment and engagement
Date of this Version
Isolation and cohesion are two key network features, often used to predict outcomes like mental health and deviance. More cohesive settings tend to have better outcomes, while isolates tend to fare worse than their more integrated peers. A common assumption of past work is that the effect of cohesion is universal, so that all actors get the same benefits of being in a socially cohesive environment. Here, we suggest that the effect of cohesion is universal only for specific types of outcomes. For other outcomes, experiencing the benefits of cohesion depends on an individual’s position in the network, such as whether or not an individual has any social ties. Network processes thus operate at both the individual and contextual level, and we employ hierarchical linear models to analyze these jointly to arrive at a full picture of how networks matter. We explore these ideas using the case of adolescents in schools (using Add Health data), focusing on the effect of isolation and cohesion on two outcomes, school attachment and academic engagement. We find that cohesion has a uniform effect in the case of engagement but not attachment. Only non-isolates experience stronger feelings of attachment as cohesion increases, while all students, both isolates and non-isolates, are more strongly engaged in high cohesion settings. Overall, the results show the importance of taking a systematic, multi-level approach, with important implications for studies of health and deviance.
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