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Birds of a feather, or friend of a friend? using exponential random graph models to investigate adolescent social networks*

Demography

Abstract

In this article, we use newly developed statistical methods to examine the generative processes that give rise to widespread 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 adolescent friendship networks in 59 U.S. 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 differentially likely relative to cross-category friendships), and closure in triads (a friend’s friends are more likely to become friends), given local population composition. Blacks are generally the most cohesive racial category, although 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. Grade levels 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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The authors thank Mark Handcock, David Hunter, Carter Butts, Marijtje van Duijn, Krista Gile, Deven Hamilton, and Pavel Krivitsky. Steven Goodreau and Martina Morris were supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (R01-HD041877 and R01-DA012831). James Kitts and Martina Morris were supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0433086), while James Kitts received additional NSF funding (IIS-0433637). This research uses data from Add Health, a program project designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Persons interested in obtaining data les from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 (addhealth@ unc.edu). No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

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Goodreau, S.M., Kitts, J.A. & Morris, M. Birds of a feather, or friend of a friend? using exponential random graph models to investigate adolescent social networks*. Demography 46, 103–125 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0045

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