Brock University

Social Networks and Inequality in Canada

This session examines the sources and effects of social networks in Canada, with an emphasis on sources in and effects on inequality. Erickson reports on the three major ethnic groups in Toronto (White, Black, and Chinese). Access to occupationally diversified people in each of these groups varies with location in ethnic, educational, and occupational inequalities and with voluntary association activity. Looker examines the effects of social networks for rural and urban youth. Majerski reports the positive effects of diverse weak ties on earnings for both immigrants ans native born, and the earnings costs of strong ties for immigrants.

Session Organizer: Bonnie Erickson, University of Toronto,


Access to Ethnic Social Capitals

Bonnie Erickson, University of Toronto,

Past research on social capital has focussed on occupations: people who have contacts in occupations varying in prestige have potential access to a variety of resources that can facilitate socioeconomic success and political activity. Contact resources also vary with contact ethnicity. This paper develops measures of ethnic social capitals as the variety of high, and low, status occupations in which a person knows someone of a particular ethnicity. The ethnic groups examined are White, Chinese, and Black people in Toronto. Results show that weaker ties cross ethnic boundaries more often than strong ties, so provide Chinese and Black respondents with better potential access to the resources in the dominant White group. Access to ethnic social capitals varies with education, work, being Canadian born or not, and activity in voluntary associations, as well as with a person's own ethnic group membership. Implications for class and ethnic inequality are discussed.


The boundaries of community: the impact of networks and community ties on youth in rural and urban areas.

E. Dianne Looker, Acadia and Mount Saint Vincent University,

Social networks and the resources they provide are particularly important for youth as they make various transitions to adulthood. The nature and density of these networks are often thought to differ for rural as compared to urban youth. Rural areas tend to be seen as close knit (although sometimes divided) communities where there are links across generations, and there are strong emotional ties to community. Connections to family and friends can help (or impede) both geographic and social mobility. These issues are explored using Canadian data from a researcher generated longitudinal survey of youth, followed from age 17 (N=1209), to age 23 (N=8548) and age 29 (N=791). Extensive quantitative data from the surveys is complemented by rich qualitative data from four hundred in-depth interviews at age 23, as well as verbatim responses to open ended questions in the surveys. Initial results document the importance of social networks and connection to community for both urban and rural youth. Also, there is evidence that, for some youth, social networks can have a negative impact, throwing into question the notion of networks as “social capital”.


The labour market outcomes of immigrant men in Canada: The role of social networks

Maria Majerski, University of Toronto,

Research often equates immigrant/native-born earnings differential with immigrants’ deficiencies in human capital attainment, such as English proficiency, Canadian work experience and educational credentials. By contrast, this study examines structural factors within immigrants' social networks. The availability of social resources is examined using the 2008 Canadian General Social Survey (GSS). Regression analyses assess social network characteristics on the immigrant/native-born earnings differential. This paper also expands the temporal scope to examine three periods of entry. Consistent with Granovetter’s (1973) claim of the strength of weak ties, the study finds that local weak ties and network diversity are positively associated with the earnings of immigrant and native-born men in Canada. In contrast, interaction effects reveal a significant earnings disadvantage associated with local close ties on immigrants' earnings, not native born. The sizeable, negative effect of local strong ties on immigrants' earnings warrants further investigation into immigrants' local close ties to explain the deteriorating labour market conditions of Canada's immigrants.



© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie