Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 6, pp 1110–1125 | Cite as

How Do My Friends Matter? Examining Latino Adolescents’ Friendships, School Belonging, and Academic Achievement

  • Melissa Y. DelgadoEmail author
  • Andrea Vest Ettekal
  • Sandra D. Simpkins
  • David R. Schaefer
Empirical Research


Are Latino adolescents’ friendships an untapped resource for academic achievement or perhaps one of the reasons why these youth struggle academically? Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 6782; 7th through 12th graders; 52.9 % female), we examined whether the process of Latino students’ school belonging mediated the relationships between the context of friendships (i.e., friendship network indicators) and their academic outcomes (i.e., a context-process-outcomes model), and tested whether the process-context link varied by friends’ characteristics (i.e., GPA and problem behavior; social capital). Moreover, we tested whether all relationships varied across the four largest Latino subgroups in the U.S. (i.e., Mexican, Central/South American, Puerto Rican, and Cuban). Our findings indicate that being nominated as a friend by peers and perceiving to have friends exerted both direct effects on school belonging in all but one of the Latino ethnic samples (i.e., Puerto Rican samples) and indirect effects on academic achievement in the full Latino, Mexican, and Central/South American samples. As such, school belonging was more likely to explain the links between academic achievement with nominations by peers as a friend and perceived friends than with having close-knit friendship groups. However, having a close-knit group of average or low-achieving friends predicted more school belonging for Mexican youth, but less school belonging for Cubans. Our findings suggest that friendships may be particularly beneficial for the school belonging process of highly marginalized groups in the U.S. (i.e., Mexican-origin).


Academic achievement Adolescence Friendships Latinos School belonging 



This research was supported by the William T. Grant Young Scholar Award No. 7936 to Sandra D. Simpkins, a postdoctoral award from William T. Grant to Melissa Y. Delgado and Sandra D. Simpkins, by a Texas State University Research Enhancement Program award to Melissa Y. Delgado, and by a predoctoral fellowship awarded to Andrea Vest Ettekal from the graduate college at Texas State University. This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

Authors’ Contributions

MYD conceptualized the current research questions, performed statistical analyses and interpretation of the data, and drafted the manuscript. AVE assisted in developing the research questions, performed statistical analyses and contributed to the interpretation of results, and helped in drafting of the manuscript. SDS helped conceptualize the research questions, contributed to the interpretation of results, and helped to draft the manuscript. DRS helped develop the research questions, consulted with statistical analyses, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Y. Delgado
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrea Vest Ettekal
    • 2
  • Sandra D. Simpkins
    • 3
  • David R. Schaefer
    • 4
  1. 1.Texas State UniversitySan MarcosUSA
  2. 2.Tufts UniversityMedfordUSA
  3. 3.University of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  4. 4.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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