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Psychological Well-Being and Brokerage in Friendship Networks of Young Swedes


All ethnic groups have norms and values according to which one is expected to behave. Immigrants in particular have personal networks that simultaneously consist of co-ethnics and friends of a different ethnic background. As a consequence, they may be accustomed to the behavior, norms, and values of their own ethnic group, and also be expected to behave according to those of another ethnic group. This may either lead to ego-gratification and the strengthening and enrichment of their personality, or to feelings of stress and non-acceptance if they cannot behave fully in accordance with the expectations of their friends. This study addresses the association between interethnic open triads in networks (i.e., brokerage) and individual psychological well-being. That is, we examine whether having intra-ethnic and interethnic relationships with friends who are not also friends with each other, is either positively or negatively associated with psychological well-being. Using (network) data from a large sample (N = 2,942; age = 19) of native Swedes and first- and second-generation immigrants from former Yugoslavia and Iran (all born in 1990 and currently living in Sweden), we show that interethnic brokerage is negatively associated with psychological well-being, which implies that the different norms, values and corresponding behaviors that prevail in different ethnic groups to which the ethnic broker is connected may result in internal and external conflicts, to feelings that one is not fully accepted by any of these groups, and ultimately to a lower level of psychological well-being.

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  1. By focusing solely on the networks of immigrants, most of these studies neglected the consequences of interethnic relationships for the native population. For an exception, see Martinovic (2013).

  2. Of course, brokerage is more likely in networks of less intimate relationships than in friendship networks. In terms of receiving non-redundant information, the advantages of occupying a brokerage position may also be more applicable in networks of less intimate relationships. However, regarding psychological well-being, we expect that effects of brokerage are more likely in networks of strong relationships, because people are more likely to behave according to the norms and values of their strong contacts than to those of their weaker contacts.

  3. These four configurations are based on the five configurations of brokerage relations as presented in Gould and Fernandez (1989). For a more detailed description of these four configurations, see Mollenhorst et al. (2013).

  4. According to our data, in 84.1 % of the cases of gatekeeper/representative brokerage among former Yugoslavians, one’s friend is also from former Yugoslavia, while the other friend is a native Swede. In 82.8 % of the cases of gatekeeper/representative brokerage among immigrants from Iran, one’s friend is also from the Middle East, while the other friend is a native Swede.

  5. Marginal effects, based on multinomial regression analyses, indicated that, compared to native Swedes, friendship triads of former Yugoslavians and Iranians are about 46 % more likely to be closed interethnic triads and 28 % more likely to be open interethnic triads (see Mollenhorst et al. 2013).

  6. Sieber (1974:567) noted that role strain in fact comprises two (overlapping) problems: role overload and role conflict. Role overload is a matter of time: as role obligations increase, sooner or later one is forced to honor some roles at the expense of others. Role conflict is a matter of discrepant expectations: sometimes one is forced to choose between honoring the expectations of A or of B, because compliance with the expectations of one will violate the expectations of the other.

  7. By looking at triads in personal networks, we neglect the possibility that a fourth actor also bridges the gap between the two unconnected actors (and consequently between groups).

  8. Compare one respondent who named 5 friends with whom she/he is very close, with another respondent who named 5 friends, having a very close relationship with two of them and a less close relationship with the other 3 friends. It is likely that the number of open triads in the latter network is larger.


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This study is part of the research project “Individual Life Chances in Social Context—A Longitudinal Multi-Methods Perspective on Social Constraints and Opportunities”, which is supported by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to Jens Rydgren as principal investigator (grant no. 263422). An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 10th Conference on Applications of Social Network Analysis at the University of Zürich, Switzerland (August, 2013).

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Correspondence to Gerald Mollenhorst.


Appendix 1

See Table 3.

Table 3 Ethnic and Interethnic Friendships (frequencies and percentages per stratum)

Appendix 2

See Table 4.

Table 4 Psychological Well-being and Respondent Characteristics

Appendix 3

See Table 5.

Table 5 Psychological well-being and network characteristics

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Mollenhorst, G., Edling, C. & Rydgren, J. Psychological Well-Being and Brokerage in Friendship Networks of Young Swedes. Soc Indic Res 123, 897–917 (2015).

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  • Interethnic relationships
  • Brokerage
  • Psychological well-being
  • Triads
  • Friendships
  • Personal networks