Reconciling two theories of the effects of adolescent activity co-participation on race/ethnic friendship segregation


Schaefer, David R.; Simpkins, Sandra D.; & Ettekal, Andrea Vest (2015). Reconciling two theories of the effects of adolescent activity co-participation on race/ethnic friendship segregation. Sunbelt International Social Networks Conference. Brighton, UK.


Extracurricular activities are common foci that draw adolescents together and promote friendship. Structural theories argue that such foci attract relatively homogenous subsets of the population, thereby promoting friendship homophily. By contrast, qualitative evidence suggests activity foci can decrease homophily by offering opportunities for familiarization and engagement with peers who are dissimilar. In this paper, we examine these seemingly contradictory processes and explain how, in fact, both can occur. At the macro level, activity foci can promote homophily by homogenizing the pool of available friends, while at the micro level, foci can decrease the relative salience of attributes unrelated to the foci (e.g., activity-related interests trump race/ethnicity during friend selection). The hypothesized net effect of these two processes is a greater proportion of homophilous friendships within activity foci, but fewer relative to chance than observed outside the foci. Our analysis uses data on friendships and participation in 30 extracurricular activities from 108 schools in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Our test that activities serve as foci to bring racially homogenous sets of individuals together provides mixed results. Only around 60% of the activities are more homogenous than the broader school context in which they’re embedded, though we observe systematic differences by activity type. We follow this with an evaluation of the net effect of foci that compares several measures of homophily within activities to school-level homophily. We follow up these activity–level analyses with statistical models (ERGM and SABM) that test the moderating effect of extracurricular activity co-participation on race homophily net of other selection mechanisms. Overall results offer support for both perspectives. Activities weakly promote homogeneity; yet, when they do, they increase race homophily while reducing the relative salience of race for friend selection.

Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

Sunbelt International Social Networks Conference


Schaefer, David R.
Simpkins, Sandra D.
Ettekal, Andrea Vest

Year Published


City of Publication

Brighton, UK

Reference ID