In big high schools, race marks social divide

U. MICHIGAN (US) — Students who attend large high schools are less likely to form interracial friendships, new research finds.

For a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers used both simulated and real data to examine how the size of a community affects the way young people form friendships.

“We found that total school size had a major effect on the likelihood that students would form interracial friendships,” says Yu Xie, a sociologist at the University of Michigan. “Large schools promote racial segregation and discourage interracial friendships.”

The researchers’ model incorporates the widely held assumption that people prefer to make friends with others of the same race—and also incorporates many other preferences that affect friendship formation, including age, education, hobbies, personality, religious affiliation, and political beliefs.

Given these individual preferences, the researchers found that when the size of the social group is small, people have a low likelihood of finding a same-race friend that matches their other preferences.

But as the total size of the group increases, people are more likely to find same-race friends who also satisfy their other preferences.

The work has implications for other social relationships, such as dating, marriage, political coalitions, and business affiliations, says graduate student Siwei Cheng.

“One potential negative social consequence of the Internet as a social interaction medium in an ever more globalized world is to encourage social isolation and social segmentation by expanding group size immensely.”

Source: University of Michigan

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