Does informal mentoring contribute to upward mobility for low-income adolescents? A mixed-methods multi-stage study
Gowdy, Grace Marilyn
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There are over 13 million children and adolescents in poverty in the United States today. These children and adolescents are likely to remain poor throughout their life, and are less likely to be upwardly mobile than their middle-income peers. Although structural change is needed in order to redress economic immobility on a large scale, informal mentoring may be one small person-level intervention that can help promote mobility. Informal mentoring (positive relationships with caring non-parental adults), has already been associated with key building blocks to economic success, including educational attainment and early employment. This dissertation is the first study to examine if informal mentors can promote economic mobility for adolescents, asking (1) is informal mentorship associated with upward mobility? and (2) do some mentoring relationships promote upward mobility more than others? This study uses data from three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (AddHealth). Research Question 1 uses propensity score matching to isolate the effect of informal mentoring on economic mobility, both for low-income and middle-income youth as a comparison. Research Question 2 uses cluster analysis and a series of logistic regressions to determine (a) types of informal mentoring relationships and (b) whether some types better promote economic mobility for low-income youth. Findings from this dissertation demonstrate that some, but not all, informal mentors can promote economic upward for low-income youth. Simply having a mentor did not promote mobility for low-income youth. In order to be upwardly mobile, they needed to have a "capital" mentor, i.e., someone who comes from outside their immediate social circle and connects them to other important relationships and resources. These are in contrast with "core" mentors, long-standing, important relationships from within the family that provide emotional support. This dissertation shows that some mentors can, in fact, make a difference for low-income adolescents' economic outcomes in adulthood. Low-income youth, however, were less likely to have an informal mentor, and only 45% of those who were mentored had the type that could promote mobility. Findings from this dissertation suggest that those who are interested in promoting economic mobility for low-income youth should thus promote capital mentoring relationships.