Scholarly debate focuses on whether cultural capital reproduces existing inequalities or provides a path to upward mobility. Most research, however, focuses only on cross-sectional associations and is unclear about how disadvantaged adolescents can increase their amounts of cultural capital. Traditionally, most adolescents’ interactions with adults occur across two axes of socialization: families and schools. Families provide opportunities to increase cultural capital
while schools value and reward cultural capital. Thus, if adolescents do not obtain cultural capital through their families, they may be at a significant disadvantage when navigating the education system. We hypothesize that adolescents may be able to increase cultural capital through valuable social capital access and exposure – their ties to and meeting frequency with other important adults with knowledge of the education system. We investigate this topic using
experimental longitudinal data on mentoring relationships. We find that high levels of social capital access and exposure positively affect cultural capital, but only for adolescents with highly educated parents. Our findings suggest that cultural capital may not be an engine of social mobility if adolescents from low-SES households cannot acquire or increase their cultural capital.