Birds of a Feather, or Friend of a Friend? Using Exponential Random Graph Models Investigate Adolescent Social Networks

by Steven M. Goodreau, James A. Kitts, and Martina Morris

Forthcoming in Demography.

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This paper uses newly developed statistical methods to examine the generative processes that give rise to wide-spread patterns in friendship networks.  The methods incorporate both traditional demographic measures on individuals (age, sex, and race) and network measures for structural processes operating on individual, dyadic, and triadic levels.  We apply the methods to the adolescent friendship networks in fifty-nine US schools from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health).  We model friendship formation as a selection process constrained by individuals’ sociality (propensity to make friends), selective mixing in dyads (friendships within race, grade, or sex categories are more likely), and closure in triads (a friend’s friends are more likely to become friends), given local population composition.  Whites and Blacks are the most consistently cohesive racial categories and, when Whites are in the minority, they display stronger selective mixing than do Blacks when Blacks are in the minority.  Hispanics exhibit disassortative selective mixing under certain circumstances; in other cases they exhibit assortative mixing but lack the higher-order cohesion common in other groups. Grades are always highly cohesive, while females form triangles more than males.  We conclude with a discussion of how network analysis may contribute to our understanding of sociodemographic structure and the processes that create it.

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This article is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grants No. BCS-0433086 and IIS-0433637.

Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recomendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).