Race and Friendship Choice: A Test of Contact and Group Threat Theories

Jennifer Flashman, University of California, Los Angeles

According to contact theory, exposure to individuals of different racial/ethnic backgrounds changes attitudes in positive ways, leading to stronger preferences for other-race friends. As a result, as schools integrate racially, so should friendships. Group threat theory predicts the opposite; as diversity increases within a school, group competition increases and friendships become more segregated. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and discrete choice models, this paper attempts to distinguish between these two theories. I improve on past research by showing that bias is introduced into models of friend choice when non-chosen friend alternatives are sampled in small numbers, and by modeling friendship group choices rather than choices for individual friends. I show that when the number of sampled non-chosen friend alternatives is small, the relationship between school racial diversity and interracial friendships is negative. As I increase the number of sampled non-chosen friend alternatives, this relationship becomes positive, providing support for contact theory.

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Presented in Session 24: Racial Discrimination