Abstract: The Accessibility and Effectiveness of Capital Mentorship for Young People Vulnerable to Economic Immobility (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

The Accessibility and Effectiveness of Capital Mentorship for Young People Vulnerable to Economic Immobility

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 8, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Grace Gowdy, PhD, Faculty, Boston University School of Social Work, MA
Renee Spencer, EdD, LICSW, Professor, Boston University School of Social Work, MA
Daniel Miller, PhD, Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA

Rising economic immobility is most severe for those who are born in to low-income households and for people of color. Capital mentors, caring non-parental adults who use their own social capital to connect a young person to new resources, can promote economic mobility. This current study asks (1) if this type of mentor is accessible to youth most vulnerable to economic immobility, and (2) if this type of mentoring can promote upward mobility for these youth.


To address these questions, we used three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. This study used Wave 1 for demographic information and income, Wave 3 for questions on informal mentoring, and Wave 4 for adulthood income.


Person of color. This variable is coded 1 for any respondent who indicated they were anything other than White non-Hispanic during Wave 1 of data collection.

Low-income person. This variable is coded 1for any respondent who lived in a household making under $25,000 during Wave 1, when they were less than 19 years old.

Capital mentor. This variable results from a cluster analysis of on different types of mentors available in the data. Capital mentors are mentors from the youth's periphery social circle, who has not known the youth for very long and who young person does not feel close. These mentors do, however, provide social capital, and good advice.

Mobility. Household income was asked during Wave 1 of data collection, when the respondent was under the age of 19, and Wave 4, when the respondent was an adult. This variable is coded 1 if the respondent moved up in income childhood to adulthood, adjusting for inflation.

Analytic Plan

For Question 1, a series chi-square tests were performed comparing the likelihood of having a capital mentor versus a mentor of another kind based on the young person's demographic vulnerabilities on a sample that reported a mentor and provided demographic and income information (N=4,009). For Question 2, we ran logistic regressions on three separate subsamples associating their likelihood to be upwardly mobile with their mentor status, controlling for basic demographics. These subsamples were (1) low income respondents (N=796), (2) people of color (N=1,553) and (3) both (N=480).


Overall, vulnerable groups were unlikely to have a capital mentor (respondents of color: ꭕ2=77.51, p<0.001; low-income respondents: ꭕ2 =35.06, p<0.001). However, these vulnerable populations were still likelier to be economically mobile when they had a capital mentor (respondents of color: OR=-1.48, p<0.05; low-income respondents: OR=3.19, p<0.001). Importantly, those who had both demographic vulnerabilities to economic immobility were still likelier to be mobile when they had a capital mentor (OR=1.92, p<0.01).

Conclusion and Implications 

Overall, having a capital mentors was associated with economic mobility among vulnerable youth. This positive finding is tempered by the evidence that these young people were also less likely to have such as mentor, in comparison to their non-white and middle-income counterparts. We will discuss how this study highlights the needs for efforts to be made connecting young people to capital mentors.