Sources of personal neighbor networks: Social integration, need, or time?

Campbell, K. E., & Lee, B. A.

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Campbell, K. E., & Lee, B. A. (1992). Sources of personal neighbor networks: Social integration, need, or time? Social Forces, 70(4), 1077–1100.

In response to Wirth's (1938) image of city dwellers as isolated individuals lacking strong ties to others, urban sociologists and network analysts have closely examined personal networks. Because neighbors are vital components of such networks, we examine three theoretical perspectives offered to explain the links between statuses and neighbor networks: social integration, need, and available time. Survey evidence from 690 adults in 81 Nashville, Tennessee neighborhoods best supports a social integration interpretation—those in statuses well integrated into society in general (female, middle-aged, married, and high-SES respondents) have larger networks within their neighborhoods. Need may be the inverse of integration, for low-SES persons, though maintaining smaller networks, have more frequent and intense contact with their neighbors.

Main finding
Participants with characteristics that reflect social integration were found to have larger networks. These participants were women, middle-aged, married, or individuals with high socioeconomic status. While women had larger social networks, there were no gender differences in the frequency or intensity of network ties. Social integration proved more important than the potentially negative consequences of less need and free time associated with parenthood and marriage. Participants with higher social or economic need, and lower socio-economic status, were found to have smaller, but more intense social networks, with networks ties characterized by longer and more frequent contact. The authors suggests that these participants rely more on neighbors for friendship and support. The results for age were mixed, with some support for a relationship between discretionary time, proxied by age, and network size.

Description of method used in the article
The authors conducted surveys and hour-long interviews with 690 adults from 81 neighborhoods in the southern quadrant of Nashville, Tennessee. 125 additional adults participated in short interviews. The questionnaire collected data on neighboring behavior and attitudes, and the interviews collected data on personal networks. Both reflect the dimensions of network size, network tie intensity, and multiplexity, or the extent of services each network tie provides. The authors use statistical analysis to test correlations between networks and demographics, explained by individual characteristics that reflect social integration, social or economic need, and free time.

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