Tied Together: Adolescent Friendship Networks, Immigrant Status, and Health Outcomes

Abstract

This study examines the social integration of adolescent immigrants by directly analyzing the composition of their friendship networks. Using statistical network analysis, I first consider whether adolescents are more likely to befriend peers who share their immigrant generation status in a large, diverse sample of 7th through 12th graders from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (n = 67,586). Next, I test whether having a higher proportion of same-generation friends can protect immigrant youth from experiencing negative health outcomes and adopting risky behaviors. Results indicate that adolescents are more likely to form friendships with peers who share their immigrant generation status and that this tendency is particularly strong for first-generation immigrants. Furthermore, immigrant youth with greater proportions of same-generation friends are less likely to report several negative health behaviors and outcomes. My findings suggest that same-generation friendships can serve as a protective mechanism for immigrant youth, which may help explain the existence of an immigrant health paradox.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Here, I define second-generation immigrants as children of at least one foreign-born parent and later-generation immigrants as the children of two native-born parents (following Bersani 2014).

  2. 2.

    Students in the retained sample differ in minor ways from those who were omitted. For instance, the proportion of first-generation (8.77 %) and second-generation youth (9.84 %) is slightly lower in the analyzed sample than among the omitted cases (11.28 % and 13.01 %, respectively). Yet even in lieu of such differences, omitting these 25 schools is unlikely to substantively bias my findings. If anything, these omissions should produce more conservative estimates because schools with higher percentages of first- and second-generation students and lower percentages of white students are more likely to exhibit patterns discussed in the Results section.

  3. 3.

    A small proportion (0.6 %) of my sample was born outside the United States to two U.S.-born parents. In supplemental analysis, I drop these respondents from my sample and observe the same substantive trends reported in the results (analyses available upon request).

  4. 4.

    In supplemental analysis, I test whether conclusions vary for second-generation with two foreign-born parents and second-generation respondents with one foreign-born parent and one native-born parent. Because I find no significant differences between the two groups (analyses available upon request), I aggregate them to increase my sample size (following Rumbaut 2004).

  5. 5.

    In supplemental analyses, I consider different measures of respondents’ tobacco and alcohol use. These alternative metrics include definitions that are either more problematic (e.g., smokes every day vs. smokes less than everyday) or less risky (e.g., had at least one drink in the past year vs. had zero drinks). Overall, results are substantively similar (analyses available upon request).

  6. 6.

    Depression-related survey items were collected by asking respondents, “In the last month, how often did you feel depressed or blue?” “Did you cry a lot?” “Did you have trouble eating, or a poor appetite?” “Did you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?” Previous research has noted that many commonly used survey instruments do not capture equivalent mental health concepts across all racial/ethnic groups and immigrant generations (Perreira et al. 2005). Because my sample is diverse, I consider an alternative version of my depression measure that contains only those survey items in the five-item version of the CES-D (following Perreira et al. 2005). These analyses show the same trends as those presented in the Results section (available upon request).

  7. 7.

    The delinquency variety score considers three items in which respondents were asked how many times in the past year they lied to their parents, skipped school without an excuse, and got into physical fights.

  8. 8.

    In analyses not shown here, I estimate my models using the unimputed sample as well as an imputed sample that omits those cases with missing data on the dependent variable. Overall, I uncover the same trends as those presented in the Results section.

  9. 9.

    Base log odds of friendship refers to the edges parameter, friendship skew is the geometrically weighted degree parameter, open triads is the geometrically weighted dyad-wise parameter, and closed triads is the geometrically weighted edgewise parameter (see Snijders et al. 2006). For all terms that require a decay parameter, I use a weight of 0.25 (following Goodreau et al. 2009 and Schaefer et al. 2011b).

  10. 10.

    As mentioned previously, six schools in my sample were unable to produce adequate fit statistics and were thus excluded from the meta-analyses presented in Table 2. However, supplemental analyses suggest that homophily on immigrant generation status is also likely to characterize the excluded networks (analyses available upon request).

  11. 11.

    I estimate additional MLMs for each outcome variable that test for differences by race and ethnicity (analyses available by request) and find some evidence that immigrants of certain ethnicities benefit from immigrant generation homophily. Compared with white first-generation immigrants, Cuban and Filipino immigrants have even lower odds of smoking when they report larger proportions of same-generation friendships. No other interactions were statistically significant, which suggests that same-generation friendships are associated with healthy behaviors for first-generation youth from all racial/ethnic backgrounds in my sample.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful for helpful feedback and comments from Diane Felmlee, Jennifer Van Hook, Ashton Verdery, Sal Oropesa, Stephen Matthews, Nancy Luke, and the Penn State Immigration Working Group. A previous version of this research was presented at the Population Association of America Annual Meeting (April 2017, Chicago, IL). This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by Grant P01HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. No direct support was received from Grant P01HD31921 for this analysis. Additionally, I acknowledge assistance provided by the Population Research Institute at The Pennsylvania State University, which is supported by an infrastructure grant by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P2CHD041025). This work was also supported by The Pennsylvania State University and the National Science Foundation under IGERT Award #DGE-1144860, Big Data Social Science.

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McMillan, C. Tied Together: Adolescent Friendship Networks, Immigrant Status, and Health Outcomes. Demography 56, 1075–1103 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-019-00770-w

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Keywords

  • Adolescent immigrants
  • Social networks
  • Immigrant paradox
  • Health outcomes