American Sociological Association

Higher Education, Bigger Networks? Differences by Family Socioeconomic Background and Network Measures

Income or health returns linked to obtaining a college degree often are greatest for individuals who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. Although this importantly suggests that college lessens many forms of inequality linked to parental socioeconomic status, empirical knowledge about adult network inequality remains limited. Drawing on the 1972–2014 General Social Survey, the author finds that higher education associates on average with a greater number of nonkin and community ties. However, college gains in nonkin networks and capital exist mostly among those coming from disadvantaged families, suggesting that college may substitute or compensate for otherwise limited networks. In contrast, differences in frequency of socializing by higher education are not conditioned by parental background. As a whole, the present findings suggest that college attendance may lessen life-course network inequality within the general population.


Matthew A. Andersson