Mentoring marginality: the role of informal mentors in the lives of socially disadvantaged adolescents

Bryan L. Sykes, Jason Gioviano, Alex R. Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Educational attainment is a key predictor of potential contact with the criminal justice system. A growing body of literature implicates social background and parental incarceration as factors that affect the educational, emotional, and behavioral development of children. Wilson argues that the social isolation of the underclass in urban cities prevents youth from being exposed to mainstream individuals who serve as positive role models, thereby solidifying inequality among the socially disadvantaged. This article draws upon a new, nationally representative data set to assess racial differences in informal mentorship among adolescents. We investigate how mentoring affects academic engagement and self-control among disadvantaged youth who have experienced parental incarceration. Using propensity score-matching methods, findings indicate persistent racial differences in the likelihood of having an informal mentor after controlling for measures of neighborhood disorder, social institutions, and social cohesion. Results show that informal mentoring is associated with increased self-control for non-White children who have never had a parent incarcerated but not for Latino youth who have had a parent behind bars. However, informal mentoring has no measurable effect on the academic engagement of adolescents exposed and unex-posed to parental incarceration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-269
Number of pages24
JournalRace and Justice: an international journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Education
  • Informal mentoring
  • Parental incarceration
  • Race
  • Self-control

Cite this