The Role of Social Networks in Determining Earnings: A Comparison Analysis of Four Racial and Ethnic Groups


Previous literature shows that social networks built on weak ties provide greater advantages to individual earnings in the labor market. In this research, we evaluate the effect of social networks on earnings for different racial and ethnic groups by operationalizing social networks to the quality social network scores (QNS). We utilize the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality (MCSUI) dataset to create the QNS for four different racial and ethnic groups: non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. We assess how the earning disparities among these racial and ethnic groups are attributable to the quality of social networks of the subgroups in the US labor market. The findings suggest that significant differences exist among these groups concerning the extent to which the QSN predicts earnings. A positive association between the QSN and earnings is found only among non-Hispanic Whites. In contrast, Blacks and Hispanics gain higher wages from replying on strong ties. They benefit equivalently from the same QSN, whereas Asians earn significantly less than Blacks and Hispanics who have the same QSN. The results suggest that Asians are more likely to rely on human capital rather than social capital to improve earnings.

Share and Cite:

Flores-Yeffal, N. & Zhang, L. (2012). The Role of Social Networks in Determining Earnings: A Comparison Analysis of Four Racial and Ethnic Groups. Sociology Mind, 2, 235-246. doi: 10.4236/sm.2012.22031.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Aguilera, M. B., & Massey, D. S. (2003). Social capital and the wages of Mexican migrants: New hypotheses and tests. Social Forces, 82, 671-701. doi:10.1353/sof.2004.0001
[2] Alba, R., & Nee, V. (2003). Remaking the American mainstream: As- similation and contemporary immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[3] Allen, W. R. (1995). African American family life in societal context: Crisis and hope. Sociological Forum, 10, 569-592. doi:10.1007/BF02095769
[4] Allensworth, E. M. (1997). Earnings mobility of first and “1.5” gene- ration Mexican-origin women and men: A comparison with US born Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic Whites. International Migra- tion Review, 31, 386-410. doi:10.2307/2547225
[5] Amuedo-Dorantes, C., & Mundra, K. (2007). Social networks and their impact on the earnings of Mexican migrants. Demography, 44, 849- 863. doi:10.1353/dem.2007.0039
[6] Bernhardt, A., Morris, M., & Handcock, M. S. (1995). Women’s gains or men’s losses? A closer look at the shrinking gender gap in earn- ings. The American Journal of Sociology, 101, 302-328. doi:10.1086/230726
[7] Bobo, L., Johnson, J., Oliver, M., Farley, R., Bluestone, B., Browne, I., Danziger, S., Green, G., Holzer, H., Krysan, M., Massagli, M., & Zubrinsky Charles, C. (2000). Multi-city study of urban inequality, 1992-1994. 3rd ICPSR Version. Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles: Household Survey Data.
[8] Boswell, T. E. (1986). A split labor market analysis of discrimination against Chinese immigrants, 1850-1882. American Sociological Re- view, 51, 352-271. doi:10.2307/2095307
[9] Browne, I., Green, G., & Tigges, L. (1998). Social isolation of the ur- ban poor: Race, class, and neighborhood effects on social resources. Sociological Quarterly, 39, 53-77. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.1998.tb02349.x
[10] Dominguez, S., & Watkins, C. (2003).Creating networks for survival and mobility: Social capital among African-American low-income mothers. Social Problems, 50, 111-135. doi:10.1525/sp.2003.50.1.111
[11] Elliott, J. R., & Sims, M. (2001). Ghettos and barrios: The impact of neighborhood ethnicity and poverty on job matching among African Americans and Latinos. Social Problems, 48, 341-361. doi:10.1525/sp.2001.48.3.341
[12] Falcon, L. M., & Melendez, E. (2001). Racial and ethnic differences in job searching in urban centers. In A. O’Connor, C. Tilly, & L. D. Bobo (Eds.), Urban inequality: Evidence from four cities (pp. 341- 371). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
[13] Farley, R. (2001). Metropolises of the Multi-City Study of urban ine- quality: Social economic, demographic, and racial issues in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles. In A. O’Connor, C. Tilly, & L. D. Bobo (Eds.), Urban inequality: evidence from four cities (pp. 34-89). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
[14] Flores, N. Y. (2005). The interrelation between social context, social structure, and social capital in migration flows from Mexico to the United States (doctoral dissertation). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.
[15] Flores-Yeffal, N. Y. (2012). Migration-trust networks: The social net- works of Mexican-US bound migration. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.
[16] Flores-Yeffal, N. Y., & Aysa-Lastra, M. (2011). Place of origin, types of ties, and support networks in Mexico-US Migration. Rural Sociology, 25, 1-30.
[17] Garcia, C. (2005). Buscandotrabajo: Social networking among immi- grants from Mexico to the United States. Hispanic Journal of Behav- ioral Sciences, 27, 3-22. doi:10.1177/0739986304272353
[18] Garcia, J. G., & Zea, M. C. (1997). Psychological interventions and research with Latino populations. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon Publishers.
[19] Granovetter, M. (1973).The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1360-1380. doi:10.1086/225469
[20] Granovetter, M. (1982).The strength of weak ties: A theory revisited. In P. V. Marsden, & N. Lin (Ed.), Social structure and network analysis 78 (pp. 1360-1380). London: Sage.
[21] Granovetter, M. (1995).Getting a job: A study of contacts and careers. Chicago: Universityof Chicago Press.
[22] Green, G. P., Tigges, L. M., & Diaz, D. (1999). Racial and ethnic dif- ferences in job-search strategies in Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles. Social Science Quarterly, 80, 263-278.
[23] Horwitz, A. V., White, H. R., & White, S. H. (1996). Becoming mar- ried and mental health: A longitudinal study of a cohort of young adults. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 895-907. doi:10.2307/353978
[24] Kao, G. (1995). Asian Americans as model minorities? A look at their academic performance. American Journal of Education, 103, 121- 159. doi:10.1086/444094
[25] Kim, H. S., Sherman, D. K., & Taylor, S. E. (2008). Culture and social support. American Psychologist, 63, 518-526. doi:10.1037/0003-066X
[26] Kmec, J. A., & Trimble, L. B. (2009). Does it pay to have a network contact? Social network ties, workplace racial context, and pay out- comes. Social Science Research, 38, 266-278. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2009.01.003
[27] Light, I. (1974).From vice district to tourist attraction: The moral career of American Chinatowns, 1880-1940. The Pacific Historical Review, 43, 367-394.
[28] Lin, N. (2000). Inequality in social capital. Contemporary Sociology, 29, 785-795. doi:10.2307/2654086
[29] Marsden, P. V. (1987). Core discussion networks of Americans. Ameri- can Sociological Review, 52, 122-131. doi:10.2307/2095397
[30] Martineau, W. H. (1977). Informal social ties among urban Black Americans: Some new data and review of the problem. Journal of Black Studies, 8, 83-104. doi:10.1177/002193477700800106
[31] Massey, D. S. (1991). Latinos and the underclass. Hispanic Review of Behavioral Science, 4, 22-45.
[32] Massey, D. S. (2007).Categorically unequal: The American stratifica- tion system. New York: Russell Sage.
[33] Massey, D. S., Alarcon, R., Durand, J., & González, H. (1987). Return to Aztlan: The social process of international migration from western Mexico. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
[34] Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segrega- tion and the making of the underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
[35] Mouw, T. (2002). Racial differences in the effects of job contacts: Conflicting evidence from cross-sectional and longitudinal data. So- cial Science Research, 31, 511-538. doi:10.1016/S0049-089X(02)00020-0
[36] Paternoster, R., Brame, R., Mazerolle, P., & Piquero, A. (1998). Using the correct statistical test for the equality of regression coefficients. Criminology, 36, 859-866. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.1998.tb01268.x
[37] Poston, D. L. (2002).The effects of human capital and cultural capital characteristics on the economic attainment patterns of male and female Asian-born immigrants to the United States: Multi-level analyses. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 11, 197-219.
[38] Sanders, J., Nee, V., & Sernau, S. (2002). Asian immigrants’ reliance on social ties in a multiethnic labor market. Social Forces, 81, 281- 314. doi:10.1353/sof.2002.0058
[39] Santiago, A. M., & Wilder, M. G. (1991). Residential segregation and links to minority poverty: The case of Latinos in the United States. Social Problems, 38, 492-515. doi:10.1525/sp.1991.38.4.03a00060
[40] Singer, A., & Massey, D. S. (1998). The social process of undocu- mented border crossing among Mexican migrants. International Mi- gration Review, 32, 561-592. doi:10.2307/2547764
[41] Smith, S. S. (2000). Mobilizing social resources: Race, ethnic, and gen- der differences in social capital. Sociological Quarterly, 41, 509-537. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2000.tb00071.x
[42] Stainback, K. (2008). Social contacts and race/ethnic job matching. Social Forces, 87, 857-886. doi:10.1353/sof.0.0123
[43] Wellman, B., & Wortley, S. (1990). Different strokes for different folks: Community ties and social support. The American Journal of Soci- ology, 96, 558-588. doi:10.1086/229572
[44] Wilson, W. J. (1987). The truly disadvantaged: The inner city, the un- derclass, and public policy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
[45] Wilson, K. L., & Portes, A. (1980). Immigration enclaves: An analysis of the labor market experiences of Cubans in Miami. American Journal of Sociology, 86, 295-319. doi:10.1086/227240
[46] Zhou, M. (1992). Chinatown: The socioeconomic potential of an urban enclave. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Copyright © 2020 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.