EWHA's Research Power for Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences
February, 2016
EWHA's Research Power for Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences


School context, friendship ties and adolescent mental health: A multilevel analysis of the Korean Youth Panel Survey (KYPS)





by Prof. Kim, Harris Hyun-soo (harrishkim@ewha.ac.kr)

Department of Sociology




Adolescent mental health has become an increasingly popular subject of interdisciplinary studies, drawing research attention from scholars across multiple intellectual backgrounds. A growing number of studies have focused, in particular, on “social determinants of health,” that is, non-physiological or non-psychological sources. Among them, the concepts of social networks and social capital have dominated the theoretical discussion in the literature. The basic argument is that interpersonal connections and the resources embedded in them serve a protective function against health risks.


My research seeks to contribute to extant scholarship by looking at two factors that can significantly affect the mental well-being of youths: interpersonal relations and school context. Interpersonal relations are conceptualized in terms of parent-child interaction and ties to delinquent friends. School context is a composite index consisting of multiple measures concerning the quality of relationship with peers and teachers, as well as attitudes toward school and academic studies. This article raises two testable questions. First, how and to what extent do network ties influence adolescent mental health? And, how and to what extent do school-related measures have an effect on the well-being of students? The dependent variable is gauged by summing up answers to survey items about emotional and mental states (e.g., being lonely, unhappy, and suicidal).


Based on hierarchical linear modeling of Korean Youth Panel Survey (KYPS), a government-funded multiyear research project, I examine these critical questions. While a substantial amount of prior research uses cross-sectional data, my work is based on longitudinal data, making it possible to draw more concrete inference regarding causality between mental health and its covariates. Net of a host of individual- and contextual-level factors, I find that delinquent ties have a significantly negative effect, while better parent-child interaction improves mental health. In addition to individual-level variables, a host of school-level factors (subjective attitude toward school and quality of interpersonal relations) are also significant predictors. Findings indicate that network connections are important but not all ties have a protective effect. The identity of members of the peer network has consequential health implications. This study challenges the bulk of existing research by highlighting the potential “dark side” of embeddedness. It also offers new findings on the role of school environment.


Harris Hyun-soo Kim is Associate Professor of Sociology. His main research areas are social networks/social capital, civic engagement and political participation, ethnic enclave economy, and social epidemiology. All of his work has been based on survey data analysis. He has analyzed a variety of publicly available national and cross-national datasets, including GSHS, KGSS, NSHAP, and WVS. He has also conducted original fieldwork in China (on ethnic enclave participation among ethnic Koreans), Uzbekistan (on the identity construction and social capital among Koryoin), and Korea (on interracial marriage). Currently, Professor Kim is the Principal Investigator (PI) of a three-year study funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea, designed to explore the relationship between network attributes and health outcomes among a representative sample of youths in Laos. This is the first attempt to collect longitudinal sociocentric network data among school-aged children in a low-income country. He is also the Co-PI on three other projects related to medical sociology or sociology of health, funded by KOICA and the National Cancer Center.


Professor Kim is the Editor-in-Chief of Korean Journal of Sociology (2016-2018), the flagship journal for the Korean Sociological Association. He also serves as the Associate Dean of International Co-ed Summer College at Ewha. He received his graduate training in sociology at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, obtaining his MA (1997) and PhD (2003), respectively.


* Related Article
Kim, Harris Hyun-soo (2015) “School context, friendship ties and adolescent mental health: A multilevel analysis of the Korean Youth Panel Survey (KYPS).” Social Science & Medicine 145: 209-216.

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