Parental Incarceration and Adolescent Social Networks: An Examination of the Social Lives of Children of Incarcerated Parents

Brielle Bryan, Harvard University

As the incarceration rate has exploded over the past 40 years, parental incarceration has become an increasingly common event in the lives of American children. Recent studies have explored the implications of parental incarceration for behavioral problems, academic achievement, health, and housing stability, but not the social lives of children with incarcerated parents. Previous research suggests that the composition of adolescents’ social networks is important for exposing them to, or insulating them from, disadvantageous peer relationships and providing social support during a critical developmental period. In this paper I bring together these two strands of research to examine the social networks of adolescents who experience paternal incarceration. Using network data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, I find that, on average, children of incarcerated fathers are more socially isolated than other adolescents, with friends who are less advantaged, less academically successful, and more delinquent than other adolescents' friends.

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Presented in Session 39: Parental Incarceration and Child Well-Being