Expanding the Impact of Peer Networks: Pathways to Turning Points

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Scholars highlight the importance of both adolescent peers and prosocial life events in explanations of continuity and change in deviant behavior. Thus far, research has evaluated the pathway to desistance by focusing on what happens to one's trajectory after experiencing prosocial adult activities, including the role of adulthood friendships. This research shifts the focus to an earlier stage of the process and combines these two research realms to investigate the influence of one's adolescent peer network on shaping the pathway to marriage, educational achievement, and job stability. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health allows this investigation to evaluate the level of deviance within one's peer group as well as the conditioning effect of network characteristics (e.g. density, centrality, popularity, attachment, and involvement) on peer deviance, while controlling for background characteristics. This research finds that the level of deviance in a peer network is particularly detrimental for educational attainment. Deviant peers also play a significant role in shaping educational expectations. The results do not, however, find peers to be influential for marriage and employment outcomes. The analyses show minimal support for the conditioning effect of network characteristics and highlight the importance of considering background characteristics in conjunction with these more dynamic influences. Lastly, the results draw attention the fact that these processes do not operate uniformly and that the pathways to prosocial adult outcomes sometimes vary by gender and race. Theoretical and policy implications are also discussed.