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Journal ArticleDOI

Social networks, accessed and mobilised social capital and the employment status of older workers: A case study

28 May 2019-International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy (Emerald)-Vol. 39, Iss: 5, pp 356-375

AbstractThe purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the importance of social networks, and the social capital embedded in them, to secure employment if someone had become unemployed after the age of 50 years and to reveal the process of accessing and mobilising that social capital.,A case study of a Scottish labour market was undertaken which involved an interview-based survey of those who became unemployed in their early 50’s and tried to regain employment. The interview had structured and unstructured parts which allowed both quantitative and qualitative analysis to compare those who were successful in regaining work with those who were not. The uniqueness of the paper is the use of social network components while controlling for other socio-economic and demographic variables in job search of older workers.,Those older people who were unemployed and, returned to employment (reemployed) had a higher proportion of contacts with higher prestige jobs, their job searching methods were mainly interpersonal and the rate of finding their last job via their social networks was higher than those who remained unemployed. Both groups mobilised social capital (MSC), but those reemployed accessed higher “quality” social capital. “Strong ties”, rather than “weak ties”, were found to be important in accessing and mobilising social capital for the older workers who returned to employment.,This work is limited to a local labour market and is based on a small but informative sample. However, it does show that policy is required to allow older people to enhance their social networks by strengthening the social capital embedded in the networks. The results support the use of intermediaries as bridges to help compensate for older people who have weak social networks. Besides the policy implications, the paper also has two distinct research implications. First, the use of social network component to the existing literature of older workers’ job search. Second, exploring the type and relational strength with network members to explain older workers’ reemployment.,The paper illustrates that how accessed and MSC can be measured.,As populations age, this work points to an approach to support older people to re-enter employment and to include them in society.,The paper extends social network and employment literature to fill gaps on how older people require to both access and mobilise social capital. The importance of “strong ties” in the reemployment of older workers contrasts with much of the literature on younger workers where the “strength of weak ties” so far has been regarded as essential for successful job search. Measures are forwarded to reveal the relevance of social capital. The policy value of the work is in suggesting ways to facilitate older people re-enter or remain in work and hence sustain their well-being.

Topics: Social network (62%), Interpersonal ties (59%), Social capital (57%)

Summary (3 min read)

Introduction

  • Worldwide populations are ageing with the UN (2017) estimating that more than 962 million people are over 60 years old, and the number aged more than 60 years is expected to grow to over 2.1 billion by 2050.
  • Before reporting on this, a brief overview of related literature on social network and employment is given.

Social Networks and Employment

  • Granovetter (1973, 1995) identified the major role of social networks in job search and labour market outcomes.
  • Hence, for older workers, who had long tenure in declining industries, strong ties may be more important for successful job search than weak ties (McQuaid and Lindsay 2002).
  • Stoloff, et al., (1999) found that the higher the occupational status of the network contacts, the higher the occupational status the job seeker obtained.
  • Lin (2001) distinguishes two modes of social capital activation - accessed social capital and mobilised social capital.
  • While controlling for other socio-economic and demographic components.

Data Collection, Analysis Procedures and Measures

  • The data set used in this paper has both quantitative and qualitative components and is extracted from a larger data set which was collected in 2004/5 to undertake a comparative study of the effect of social networks on the labour participation of younger and older workers (Gayen et al. 2010).
  • Re-examining this unique data set, which remains relevant, gives the opportunity to expose the importance of social networks and how older people activate them and so help address gaps in the literature.
  • This labour market was typified by a growing service sector business and has a buoyant economy with low levels of unemployment.
  • Scotland is an appropriate choice for this study as it was one of the first nations to experience deindustrialisation and its population is at the forefront of European populations exhibiting ageing which is very likely to impact on the labour market (Brown and Danson 2003; Lisenkova et al. 2009).
  • In the current study, 103 people aged between 50 and the then state retirement age were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire.

Socio-Economic Questions

  • Those interviewed were also asked to identify their main job search strategy.
  • Descriptive statistics, 𝜒2 tests and independent samples t-tests were applied to investigate the data and assess significance of differences between groups.

Social Network Questions

  • Respondents (egos) were asked to name up to five friends who in some way had helped in the ego’s job search.
  • These matrices were the input data to the social network analysis package UCINET-6 (Borgatti et al. 2002).
  • The principal component score for each contact was then adjusted to a non-negative scale and used to represent the tie strength of the respondent using the arbitrary transformation.
  • Mobilised social capital (MSC) was computed by calculating a contact’s help score (CHS) and then multiplying this by the average ASC.
  • The comparative job status of the contacts was measured for each contact as -1 for lower status than the ego, 0 for similar and 1 for greater status and was summed across all the contacts.

The Sample

  • Sixty-one of those interviewed had regained employment and 42 were still seeking employment.
  • Voluntary early retirees and those out of work on health grounds were excluded from the sample frame.
  • For the reemployed, data were collected from various workplaces including banks, the national health sector, business organisations, retailers and a university.
  • Semi-skilled and manual work was slightly underrepresented as was employment in distribution, hotels and restaurants.
  • The authors analysed the qualitative responses and developed six representative vignettes of respondents’ situations.

Results and Analysis

  • Respondents’ Backgrounds and Descriptive Data Socio-economic conditions.
  • This may point to a limitation of this comparative analysis, as those with higher human capital in terms of qualification and accumulated assets were more likely to be employed regardless of their networks.
  • The reemployed had had more stable job histories with 79 per cent having been mainly in stable employment over their working lives, compared to 53 per cent of those still seeking employment (P = 0.001).
  • As per job search, the common methods for those reemployed were interpersonal channels: ex-work colleagues (59%), friends and relatives (58 per cent), employers (58 per cent), associates (53%) and then local newspapers (14%); whereas unemployed job-seekers relied mostly on the media and Job Centres: Job Centres (84 per cent), local newspapers (73 per cent), and websites (54%).
  • Eighty-seven per cent of them would accept a job that was less skilled, 91 per cent would accept a job with less responsibility and 70 per cent would accept a job with less pay than their previous job.

Social Network Data

  • In total 276 relations to friends who in some way assisted their job search were reported.
  • People seeking employment sought job related help from their social networks more than those reemployed.
  • There is an indication that even in the presence of academic qualifications the accessed social capital does appear to be significant.
  • Comparing figures for those who were reemployed and those seeking employment, one can observe that egos who were reemployed were mainly surrounded by people in managerial/professional positions, whereas most of those unemployed were surrounded by network members who were either also not employed or employed in manual/unskilled jobs.

Vignettes

  • Here the authors give summaries of six representative case study vignettes of respondents’ typical situations.
  • 2 Mary (55 years) had been visiting a centre, which helped long-term unemployed workers to find work, also known as Case.
  • When examining the access to network members’ social capital, it was found that the mean accessed social capital among the reemployed group was almost double of those unemployed.
  • The reemployed people had strong ties with high positioned people, whereas the unemployed were connected mainly with those who were also either unemployed or employed in low positioned jobs whose help did not facilitate the egos’ successful job searching.

Conclusions

  • Two distinct objectives of this paper were to better understand job searching procedures of older people seeking to re-enter the job market and the relation of their social networks in that process.
  • Their requirements were not only job information, but also direct help with applications, gaining ’rich’ advice on how to undertake job search, including employer specific information on handling interviews, and references to employers.
  • The authors conclude that there is a strong association between social networks and explaining older people’s reemployment with ‘the number of contacts’, ‘proportion of contacts employed’ and the ‘employment status of the contacts’ acting as a proxy for high social capital.
  • This could be carried out by market intermediates.
  • There is a clear socio-economic gradient in terms of the strength of social networks; those who were poorer in society had weaker and less connected networks than the more affluent members of the society.

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Social Networks, Accessed and Mobilised Social Capital and the Employment Status of
Older Workers: A Case Study
Kaberi Gayen (University of Dhaka), Robert Raeside (Heriot-Watt University), Ronald W.
McQuaid (University of Stirling)
International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy (pre-publication version)
January 2019
Abstract
Purpose: To demonstrate the importance of social networks, and the social capital embedded
in them, to secure employment if someone had become unemployed after the age of 50 years,
and to reveal the process of accessing and mobilising that social capital.
Design: A case study of a Scottish labour market was undertaken which involved an interview-
based survey of those who became unemployed in their early 50’s and tried to regain
employment. The interview had structured and unstructured parts which allowed both
quantitative and qualitative analysis to compare those who were successful in regaining work
with those who were not. The uniqueness of the paper is the use of social network
components while controlling for other socio-economic and demographic variables in job
search of older workers.
Findings: Compared to those older people who were unemployed, those who returned to
employment had a higher proportion of contacts with higher prestige jobs, their job searching
methods were mainly interpersonal and the rate of finding their last job via their social
networks was higher than those who remained unemployed. Both groups mobilised social
capital, but those reemployed accessed higher ‘quality’ social capital. ‘Strong ties’, rather than
‘weak ties’, were found to be important in accessing and mobilising social capital for the older
workers who returned to employment.
Research limitations/implications: This work is limited to a local labour market and is based
on a small but informative sample. However, it does show that policy is required to allow older
people to enhance their social networks by strengthening the social capital embedded in the
networks. The results support the use of intermediaries as bridges to help compensate for
Published in International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy by Emerald. The original publication is available at: 10.1108/IJSSP-07-2018-0111.
This article is deposited under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial International Licence 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0). Any reuse is allowed in
accordance with the terms outlined by the licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). To reuse the AAM for commercial
purposes, permission should be sought by contacting permissions@emeraldinsight.com.

2
older people who have weak social networks. Besides the policy implications, the paper also
has two distinct research implications. First, the use of social network component to the
existing literature of older workers’ job search. Second, exploring the type and relational
strength with network members to explain older workers’ re-employment.
Social implications: As population age, this work points to an approach to support older
people to re-enter employment and to include them in society.
Originality/Value: The paper extends social network and employment literature to fill gaps
on how older people require to both access and mobilise social capital. The importance of
‘strong ties’ in the reemployment of older workers contrasts with much of the literature on
younger workers where ‘strength of weak ties’ so far has been regarded as essential for
successful job search in literature. Measures are forwarded to reveal the relevance of social
capital. The policy value of the work is in suggesting ways to facilitate older people re-enter
or remain in work and hence sustain their wellbeing.
Key words: Older workers, Social networks, accessed social capital, mobilised social capital,
employment.
Introduction
Worldwide populations are ageing with the UN (2017) estimating that more than 962 million
people are over 60 years old, and the number aged more than 60 years is expected to grow
to over 2.1 billion by 2050. Ageing is most advanced in the more developed countries (such as
Japan, Italy and Germany 33%, 29% and 28% were respectively 60 years or older in 2017, (UN
2017). This is, however, a worldwide phenomenon and all regions, except Africa, will be
around 25% or more by 2050 (UN 2017; He et al., 2016). Identification of the effects of ageing
prompted the OECD in 2006 to make the recommendation to employment ministers of
developed countries that living longer must mean working longer’. The governmental
response to population ageing has changed from one where older workers were encouraged
to leave the labour market to make way for younger workers to a policy advocating continued
labour market participation (Eurofound 2016; CIPD 2016; IES 2016; Loretto and Kickerstaff
2015; Pillipson et al. 2016; Talyor and Earll 2016; Walter et al. 2016). After falling in the latter
part of the 20
th
century, Eurostat data illustrates that in the EU employment rates of older

3
people (those aged 55 to 64 years) have risen from 42.2% in 2005 to 57.1% in 2017, and for
the UK the older employment rates have changed from 56.8% to 64.1% over this period
(Eurostat 2018). There have been similar rises among other developed countries (OECD,
2016).
Yet research by Loretto and White (2006); Fuertes et al. (2013); Nicholson et al. (2016);
Wanberg et al. (2016), Egdell et al. (2018) and Van Dalen, et al., (2009) shows that older
workers, generally defined as those over 50 years, face a range of barriers to remaining in or
reentering employment after a period of unemployment. Porsthuma and Campion (2009),
Dordoni and Argentero (2015), Kroon et al. (2018) and Nicholoson et al. (2016) argue that
these barriers are often unfounded and based on inaccurate sterotypes held by some
managers and employees about older workers being slow, lacking commitment to the
organisation, lacking flexiblity especially with information technology, being reluctant to
change and in conflict with younger colleagues. There are also positive views about older
workers such as being reliable, experienced and having a more positive attitude, especially
with customers (Ng and Feldman 2012; Zheltoulkhova and Braczor 2016). However, negative
perceptions seem to dominate (Axelrad and James 2016; Kroon et al. 2016) and older workers
have been associated with relatively high labour costs and low productivity (Conen et al.
2012).
Factors that help explain unemployment among older workers include the effects of benefit
and pension systems, labour market opportunities, skill gaps, expectations, feelings of
inadequacy, lack of strategic planning and age management by employers, job flexibilities and
age-related discrimination, particularly for older women (Moore, 2009; Fuertes et al., 2013;
and Loretto and Vickerstaff 2015). Anti-age discrimination laws were enacted across the
European Union and elsewhere, partly to facilitate later age working, and the Default
Retirement Age was abolished in the UK in 2011. However, Adams (2004) found age
discrimination legislation helps older workers to be retained in work rather than getting jobs
with new employers.
Social networks have been found to be influential in job searching and eventual labour market
outcomes by researchers, such as Granovetter (1973, 1995), Kramarz and Skans (2014),
Mowbray et al. (2018) and Brown et al. (2018). Lin (2001) suggested a positive influence of
networks in that they allow the social capital of others to be accessed, which can be mobilised
to supply job related information or more actively help in securing employment by providing

4
references or advocating to employers. However, from analysing the Detroit labour market
Mouw (2003) suggest that the importance of social capital in networks might be overstated
as he failed to find evidence of causal relationships. In contrast, Van Hoye, et al. (2009)
demonstrated that engaging with job search networks leads to more job offers and quicker
reemployment for those who were made redundant.
Although the significance of social networks in explaining labour market identity is well
documented, research on the association of social networks and the employment status of
older workers is lacking as it is for most demographic sub-groups (Hällsten and Rydgren, 2017).
In this article, the results of a case study into an urban labour market in Scotland are
presented. The social network characteristics of older workers (those over 50 years to the
then state pension age, 60 for women and 65 for men)
1
who had regained employment were
compared with those of similar age who remained unemployed. Emphasis is given to three
interrelated aspects of social networks to understand their utility in obtaining work. These
are: the nature of social capital embedded in personal networks; the degree of access to that
social capital; and the ability to mobilise it.
Therefore, this article aims to:
1. Explore the nature of the networks the older people used when undertaking job
search;
2. Ascertain what characteristics of networks made securing a job more likely; and
3. Evaluate the functioning of mechanisms to access and mobilise social capital
embedded in social networks in the pursuit of securing a job.
Before reporting on this, a brief overview of related literature on social network and
employment is given.
Social Networks and Employment
Granovetter (1973, 1995) identified the major role of social networks in job search and labour
market outcomes. He proposed the ground-breaking concept of ‘strength of weak ties’ for
successful job search in which he mentioned that rather than strong ties of immediate
networks, weak ties (friend’s friend or acquaintances) are more important to get diverse job
information and thus to secure a job. The value of social contacts in gaining employment was
1
The data were collected before the UK abolished compulsory retirement ages.

5
supported by Snijders et al. (2010), Wong (2008), Calvo-Armengol and Jackson (2004),
Yakubovich (2005) and Hällsten and Rydgren (2017) who demonstrated that an increase in the
proportion of weak ties in a network decreases inequality and increases the employment rate.
Similarly, Varekamp et al. (2015) found that those with more social capital, particularly in
terms of multi-dimensional social resources (including higher education levels) and job search
advice were more active in searching for jobs. Cingano and Rosolia (2012) also found that a
displaced worker’s unemployment duration fell when their personal network contained more
contacts who were employed and who provided information on jobs.
The social networks of weak ties tend to be less dense than those formed from strong ties.
They, therefore, offer job seekers a wider and more diverse range of contacts with potentially
positive consequences for the dissemination of information about job opportunities,
compared to a person who primarily relies on close or strong ties where their information and
influences is restricted to fewer people who often hold similar views and experiences. This
may be especially important where people’s social or employment worlds are restricted, or
their behaviour is influenced by social homophily, whereby people form relations with others
who are similar to themselves (McPherson, et al., 2001). However, Franzen and Hangartner
(2006) suggested that strong ties might be more useful for those seeking employment where
this involves a move between industry sectors rather than within an industry. This applies to
those who worked in declining industries, who need a bridge to other industrial sectors,
which they have little knowledge of, and contact with the workplace. Hence, for older
workers, who had long tenure in declining industries, strong ties may be more important for
successful job search than weak ties (McQuaid and Lindsay 2002).
Different groups use social networks to differing degrees. Unemployed job seekers who have
experienced repeated or longterm unemployment, as well as unskilled and young people,
are significantly less likely to use social networks, whereas rural dwellers are more likely to
use them (Lindsay et al. 2005). Gayen et al. (2010) found that older people relied more on
their associates social capital, whereas younger people relied more on human capital.
McDonald (2011) reported from analysis of the USA Social Capital Survey that younger
workers received more job leads through their networks than older workers and that those in
high status jobs heard about more jobs than those in low status jobs. He also found that
younger workers were more likely to report that a job contact vouched for them than older
workers and women and those from a racial minority derived less benefit from their networks.

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References
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Abstract: Analysis of social networks is suggested as a tool for linking micro and macro levels of sociological theory. The procedure is illustrated by elaboration of the macro implications of one aspect of small-scale interaction: the strength of dyadic ties. It is argued that the degree of overlap of two individuals' friendship networks varies directly with the strength of their tie to one another. The impact of this principle on diffusion of influence and information, mobility opportunity, and community organization is explored. Stress is laid on the cohesive power of weak ties. Most network models deal, implicitly, with strong ties, thus confining their applicability to small, well-defined groups. Emphasis on weak ties lends itself to discussion of relations between groups and to analysis of segments of social structure not easily defined in terms of primary groups.

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Abstract: Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, comembership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people's personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics. Homophily limits people's social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order. Geographic propinquity, families, organizations, and isomorphic positions in social systems all create contexts in which homophilous relations form. Ties between nonsimilar individuals also dissolve at a higher rate, which sets the stage for the formation of niches (localize...

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Abstract: Preface to the Second Edition Preface Acknowledgments Introduction Pt. 1: Toward Causal Models Ch. 1: "Job Search" and Economic Theory Ch. 2: Contacts and Their Information Ch. 3: The Dynamics of Information Flow Ch. 4: The Dynamics of Vacancy Structure Ch. 5: Contacts: Acquisition and Maintenance Ch. 6: Career Structure Ch. 7: Some Theoretical Implications Pt. 2: Mobility and Society Ch. 8: Mobility and Organizations Ch. 9: Comparative Perspectives Ch. 10: Applications Afterword 1994: Reconsiderations and a New Agenda Appendix A: Design and Conduct of the Study Appendix B: Coding Rules and Problems Appendix C: Letters and Interview Schedules Appendix D: Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness References Index

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"Social networks, accessed and mobil..." refers background or result in this paper

  • ...This suggests that, contrary to the literature (Granovetter, 1973, 1995; Yakubovich 2005; Hällsten and Rydgren 2017), strong ties are important, more so than weak ties for older workers regaining employment....

    [...]

  • ...Social networks have been found to be influential in job searching and eventual labour market outcomes by researchers, such as Granovetter (1973, 1995), Kramarz and Skans (2014), Mowbray et al. (2018) and Brown et al. (2018)....

    [...]

  • ...Granovetter (1973, 1995) identified the major role of social networks in job search and labour market outcomes....

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  • ...Lin (2001) distinguishes two modes of social capital activation - accessed social capital and mobilised social capital....

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  • ...Lin (2001) suggested a positive influence of networks in that they allow the social capital of others to be accessed, which can be mobilised to supply job related information or more actively help in securing employment by providing references or advocating to employers....

    [...]


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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions mentioned in the paper "Social networks, accessed and mobilised social capital and the employment status of older workers: a case study" ?

Design: A case study of a Scottish labour market was undertaken which involved an interviewbased survey of those who became unemployed in their early 50 ’ s and tried to regain employment. The uniqueness of the paper is the use of social network components while controlling for other socio-economic and demographic variables in job search of older workers. This work is limited to a local labour market and is based on a small but informative sample. This article is deposited under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial International Licence 4. 0 ( CC BY-NC 4. 0 ). 

While it is difficult to alter these, agencies should consider tackling the aspect of social exclusion through encouraging work experience for older people, allowing them to extend and deepen their social networks with those who are employed. Further a methodological contribution is made to social network researcher by showing how a combined approach of quantitative and qualitative methods can be used to address research goals and how weighted sociograms of ego-centric networks can be used to visualise and compare social capital of both egos and their contacts in different networks. Besides policy recommendations, and the need to generalise the finings into other labour markets there is considerable scope for future research into how networks develop over time, especially before and after older workers change status from employed to unemployed, and how those with weak networks can be better supported to re-enter employment