Young Adults Assess Their Social Networks and Connections to Resources

Posted February 14, 2022
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
A group of five college-aged young adults gather outdoors. At the forefront of the image is a Black female, with her hair styled in dreadlocks, and a white male. The two are smiling at each other.

A recent­ly released study pro­vides insights into young adults’ views on their social net­works and ana­lyzes ways young peo­ple con­nect to finan­cial, men­tor­ing and oth­er resources crit­i­cal to their healthy devel­op­ment. Vis­i­ble Net­work Labs, which pub­lished the explorato­ry report, has been host­ing a social sup­port research fel­low­ship fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, work­ing with four young adults to bet­ter under­stand the role of social con­nect­ed­ness” — their rela­tion­ships with oth­ers — in influ­enc­ing out­comes for young people.

View the report

The fel­lows and Vis­i­ble Net­work Labs col­lab­o­rat­ed to devel­op the research ques­tions, recruit 28 young adult par­tic­i­pants ages 16 to 24 from diverse back­grounds across the Unit­ed States, con­duct inter­views and ana­lyze the data. The study sought answers to four questions:

  • How do young adults think about and describe social connectedness? 
  • How does social con­nect­ed­ness dif­fer for dif­fer­ent groups of young peo­ple com­pared with old­er generations? 
  • How do those dif­fer­ences affect how young adults access resources? 
  • And how does their access to resources match — or not match — the ways that youth want to con­nect with those resources? 

Enhanc­ing Qual­i­ty, Advanc­ing Equity

An exam­ple of an invest­ment with­in the Casey Foundation’s Thrive by 25® focus, the study con­tributes to a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the per­son­al social sup­port net­works of teens and young adults — a first step toward design­ing pro­grams and inter­ven­tions that strength­en these net­works. To enhance the qual­i­ty of research and advance equi­ty, the Foun­da­tion is engag­ing youth as part­ners in iden­ti­fy­ing obsta­cles to reach­ing their full poten­tial, as well as solu­tions to over­come these obsta­cles. Casey’s goal: to make sure all young peo­ple are equipped to thrive by the age of 25, with basic needs met, post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and cre­den­tials, finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty, per­ma­nent con­nec­tions to fam­i­ly and lead­er­ship skills.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Near­ly three-quar­ters of the young adult respon­dents go to their infor­mal net­works of fam­i­ly and friends when they need support.
  • Only 25% of the inter­vie­wees between the ages of 16 and 18 thought their net­works were meet­ing their needs.
  • Sev­en­ty-one per­cent said they con­nect with oth­ers dif­fer­ent­ly than old­er adults do.
  • Com­pared to teenagers in high school, young adults over 18 were more like­ly to men­tion social media as a resource that old­er adults did not access.
  • Almost half of the inter­vie­wees were open to talk­ing about any top­ic with their social sup­port networks.
  • Young peo­ple between the ages of 16 and 18 were more like­ly to lim­it the top­ics they would talk about with their networks.
  • Of the young adults inter­viewed, 52% had refused resources offered to them, either because they were not com­fort­able with the per­son or orga­ni­za­tion offer­ing the resource or because it did not meet their needs.
  • Female inter­vie­wees were twice as like­ly to report hav­ing genuine/​authentic” sup­port com­pared with male interviewees.

Devel­op­ing Use­ful, Accept­ed Resources

The study sug­gests that intro­verts and extro­verts might have dif­fer­ent needs when con­nect­ing with oth­ers. Those who iden­ti­fied them­selves as intro­verts indi­cat­ed a clos­er con­nec­tion with in-per­son friends than extro­verts, who were more like­ly to place a sim­i­lar val­ue on in-per­son con­nec­tions and those fos­tered online. More­over, inter­vie­wees who dis­cussed receiv­ing com­mu­ni­ty sup­port — from church gath­er­ings, for exam­ple — were often extro­verts, sug­gest­ing that they wel­comed larg­er social gath­er­ings more than introverts.

The infor­ma­tion gath­ered in this study will help Vis­i­ble Net­work Labs and the four fel­lows devel­op a sur­vey tool that young adults can use to under­stand their cur­rent sup­port net­work and con­nect them to valu­able resources. The lack of such a tool has been an imped­i­ment to assess­ing the health of sup­port net­works for young adults and design­ing effec­tive pro­grams and inter­ven­tions to strength­en them.

Insights from this research enhance our under­stand­ing of the influ­ence of social con­nect­ed­ness on youth well-being,” says Kim­ber­ly Spring, the Casey Foundation’s direc­tor of research and eval­u­a­tion. By cre­at­ing authen­tic and mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with ado­les­cents and young adults, we can help ensure that resources offered to them are use­ful and accepted.”

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