Race as a lesser factor in forming friendships on Facebook

A new study in the American Journal of Sociology finds that a shared racial identity was less important than several other factors when making friends on Facebook:

“Sociologists have long maintained that race is the strongest predictor of whether two Americans will socialize,” said Andreas Wimmer, the study’s lead author and a sociologist at UCLA…

In fact, the strongest attraction turned out to be plain, old-fashioned social pressure. For the average student, the tendency to reciprocate a friendly overture proved to be seven times stronger than the attraction of a shared racial background, the researchers found…

Other mechanisms that proved stronger than same-race preference included having attended an elite prep school (twice as strong), hailing from a state with a particularly distinctive identity such as Illinois or Hawaii (up to two-and-a-half times stronger) and sharing an ethnic background (up to three times stronger).

Even such routine facts of college life as sharing a major or a dorm often proved at least as strong, if not stronger, than race in drawing together potential friends, the researchers found.

Interesting findings – perhaps Facebook is a new world or younger generations don’t pay as much attention to race.

Additionally, it is interesting to read about the methodology of the study which took place at a school where 97% of students had Facebook profiles and the sociologists measured friendships in terms of photo tagging (and not who were actually listed as “friends”).

A couple of questions I have: is behavior on Facebook and choosing friends reflective of actual social patterns in the real world? Is there a selection issue going on here  – not all students or people of this age use Facebook so are college students who use Facebook already more likely to form cross-racial friendships?

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