Race and Adolescent Friendship Networks: Implications for Assessing Racial Differences in Delinquency

Danielle Payne, The Ohio State University
Dana L. Haynie, The Ohio State University

While criminological theory and research emphasizes the importance of peer relationships for delinquency involvement, relatively little is known about differences in friendship dynamics across racial groups. This raises the possibility that any observed effect of race on adolescent behavior, such as delinquency, may be mediated by adolescent enmeshment in friendship networks. Using data from the National Longitudinal 'Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) we investigate the ways in which adolescent friendship networks vary across racial groups. Specifically, we examine differences in demographic (e.g., race, sex, and age heterogeneity), structural (e.g., size, popularity, density, centrality), and behavioral network characteristics (e.g., friends' delinquency, friends' school orientation) for white, black, Hispanic, Asian, mixed, and other racial groups. Although bivariate results indicate numerous significant race differences in friendship networks, there are also important differences in individual and school characteristics across racial groups. Turning to multivariate analyses, we find evidence of significant race differences in some friendship networks properties such as racial heterogeneity, popularity, network size, reciprocity, academic achievement, college expectations, substance use, and delinquency net of individual -- and school-level controls. Moreover, the proportion of minority students in the school conditions the effect of race on some network properties. We discuss the implications of these discoveries for future research on race, adoelscent friendships, and involvement in delinquency.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006