Methods: We used data from 3219 mothers who participated in the 5th and 6th wave of the longitudinal Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) study. Social cohesion was assessed by 5 items on a 4-pt scale measuring mothers’ agreement with how interactive and supportive their neighborhoods were (e.g. The neighborhood is close-knit), social capital was assessed by 4 binary items (yes/no responses) regarding mothers’ perception of instrumental support (e.g. knows someone who could provide emergency childcare). Structural equation modeling (SEM) tested whether social capital at wave 6 was predicted by social cohesion at wave 5 controlling for mothers’ education, employment status and poverty status. We employed separate structural equation models for married and unmarried mothers.
Results: Among married mothers, both the measurement model and SEM yielded acceptable model fit (x2(18)= 30.376 [p<0.001], RMSEA= 0.023 [CI 0.006 - 0.037],CFI=0.998, TLI=0.997; x2(39)= 145.031 [p<0.001], RMSEA= 0.048 [CI 0.040 - 0.056],CFI=0.984, TLI=0.979, respectively). Social cohesion predicted social capital (G= 0.241, p<.001) beyond the impact of maternal education, employment and poverty status. Unmarried mothers also revealed a positive relationship between social cohesion and social capital, however the effect was nearly half of that for married mothers (B= 0.124, p<.001). Model fit for unmarried mothers’ measurement and structural models also yielded significant fit (x2(18)= 71.423 [p<0.001], RMSEA= 0.039 [CI 0.029 - 0.048],CFI=0.995, TLI=0.992; x2(39)= 102.527 [p<0.001], RMSEA= 0.030 [CI 0.023 - 0.037],CFI=0.994, TLI=0.992, respectively).
Conclusions and Implications: Among samples of married and unmarried mothers, we found that higher social cohesion was associated with increased social capital. Our findings are consistent with the literature reporting that social capital is strongly tied to economic factors. The impact of social cohesion on mothers’ social capital was greater for married mothers than unmarried mothers. These findings suggest that unmarried mothers are not only economically disadvantaged but also seem to get less out of social capital. The unequal relationships among social cohesion and social capital between married and unmarried mothers may perpetuate inequality by limiting the opportunities for social mobility. Social work practitioners and researchers should consider interventions and policies that enhance social capital among unmarried mothers to lessen this effect.