As race and ethnic diversity in the U.S. continue to increase, it is vital to understand the forces that perpetuate intergroup conflict, disparities in life outcomes, and social segregation. Many of the interpersonal processes that contribute to intergroup divisions and conflict begin during adolescence. The teen years are a critical point in the life course when identity and beliefs surrounding race/ethnic groups begin to emerge and crystallize. Concurrently, youth attention shifts away from family toward school and peer contexts that, unlike family, teens have a role in choosing. These contexts provide opportunities to get to know people from different backgrounds and, under the right conditions, can reduce negative beliefs and overcome stereotypes about other race/ethnic groups, allowing genuine cross-group friendships to develop. The leads to the questions: how do the right conditions come about? In diverse settings, what leads adolescents to choose diverse friends or join diverse activities, versus rejecting out-group friendships and peers? This project investigates how race/ethnic identity and other factors affect social relationships and, in turn, how social relationships affect ethnic-racial identity. The project will then examine how these interrelated processes contribute to patterns of race/ethnic segregation within social settings. These findings help to understand how adolescents gain experience with diverse friends and in diverse activities that produce positive intergroup contact attitudes, thus assisting school and community leaders in promoting positive social relationships during this critical time in the life course.

The goals of the current study are to investigate: (1) how various dimensions of race (i.e., ethnic-racial identity, perceived race, and phenotypic features) manifest during friend selection; (2) how friendships and extracurricular activity co-participation promote one another, and their bidirectional association with dimensions of race; and (3) the relative contribution of the aforementioned selection and peer influence mechanisms to observed race/ethnic segregation in friendships and activities. This latter step helps answer the question of how consequential different pathways are for reproducing race/ethnic segregation. To address these aims this project will consider two peer contexts: school-based friendship networks and extracurricular activities. The project uses longitudinal data on more than 3,000 students and 200 activities from two racially diverse high schools originally included in the Teen Identity Development and Education Study (TIDES). Friendship networks and ethnic-racial identity were measured with surveys during three in-school data collection waves. Activity participation and phenotypic features will be coded from school yearbooks. The project's statistical analysis uses a stochastic actor-oriented model to examine the co-evolution of friendship networks, extracurricular activity participation, and individual ethnic-racial development. Findings from the project will inform sociological theories regarding inter-group cooperation, minority identity, and the role of school settings in promoting adolescent development.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Toby Parcel
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University of California Irvine
United States
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