Investigating the Social Networks and Attributes of Children

Timothy Immelman, Michele Lease, Emily Lee


Homophily underlies a broad range of social networks, including friendship, advice seeking, and marital relations (Hamm, 2000; McPherson et al., 2001). Demographic factors (e.g., gender) are strongly linked to network ties, as are many other behavioral and intrapersonal characteristics (McPherson et al, 2001). For school-age children, homophily might extend beyond shared attributes to shared interests. In this study, we examine elementary-age children’s “hanging out” network ties and homophily regarding athletic, academic, and trend-following attributes after controlling for homophily in demographic factors. Second, we examine whether “hanging-out” ties are related to having self-reported interest in these three types of activities. Third, we will examine whether homophilous ties regarding these attributes and interests are predictive of children’s self-reported social dissatisfaction. There are numerous possible disadvantages to group homophily. For example, college-age students whose friends had varied interests showed increased subjective happiness and reduced stress (Immelman & Wielkiewicz, 2019). Likewise, children may be more satisfied if they are friends with children who have varied attributes and interests, which could help them navigate the social landscape and allow them access to a wider range of activities and information. Participants (306 fourth and fifth graders from 17 classrooms) nominated classmates for three different behavioral attributes: athletic (“good at sports or games”), academic (“good grades, smart, know correct answer), and trendy (“trendy clothes, newest music, cool shoes”). Students nominated peers who “hang out together a lot” (Cairns et al., 1985), and completed self-report items indicating interest in athletic (“like playing sports”), academic (“like schoolwork”), and trend-following (“like wearing in-style clothes, cool music”) behaviors. Each student completed the Children’s Loneliness and Social Dissatisfaction Scale (Asher & Wheeler, 1985). Prior to analyses, “hanging-out” nominations were compiled into one co-occurrence matrix for each classroom; the co-occurrence matrices are valued and undirected, with each cell indicating the number of times two students in the network were named by peers as “hanging-out” in the same group. Next, we summed and standardized the number of nominations each student received from peers as exhibiting athletic, academic, or trend-following characteristics. For the self-reported interest items, we created a mean score for each activity. Next, using UCINET 6.661, we converted node attribute data into matrices for all attributes, interests, and demographic information and conducted QAP correlations and regressions to address study objectives. Initial results using three classroom networks indicate that ties in the hanging-out network are significantly correlated to homophily in gender, (r(58) = .34, p < .01), athletic (r(58) = .14, p < .01), and trend-following (r(58) = .12, p < .01) attributes but not academics (r(58) = .02, p > .05). In MR-QAPs, athletic (r(58) = .14, p < .01) and trend-following (r(58) = .12, p < .01) remained significant predictors after controlling for gender homophily. Remaining analyses are being conducted for the remaining 14 classroom-based networks and will include MR-QAPs to predict hanging-out ties from similarity in the three activity interests, controlling for demographic factors. Finally, we will examine the degree to which homophily in hanging-out relations is predictive of social dissatisfaction.



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