Homophily and How We Treat Others

How many friends do you have? What characteristics do you find in common with each of them? Maybe you have a bunch of friends who dress a lot like you, or participated in the same kind of activities with you in high school or college. 

You may be surprised at how similar you are to the people you most often associate with. But it’s not merely happenstance that you and your friends are alike. 

The tendency for people to affiliate with others who are like them is called homophily. It’s a way that individuals segregate themselves into groups where they find that they most “fit in.” 

We can all remember the cliques and groups of friends in high school; those groups who sat together at lunch and never tried to reach beyond their posse to find a new pal. In fact, we were all likely a part of one of those groups. 

Whether we classified ourselves into groups based on race, hobbies or teams, or even by popularity, we were always finding those people we most related to in order to find a place where we belonged. 

This tendency is very common even outside of school. It can even be seen with what social media platforms we choose to use. For example, those with more education and/or more income are much more likely to use more professional and business-related platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, and are better able to network with those they associate with through these platforms than any others. A study in 2008 found that students at wealthier high schools in San Francisco more commonly used Facebook, while the students at poorer schools tended to use Myspace. 

Who we choose to associate with can be a great tell as to who we find ourselves to be. And while it is mostly an innocent phenomenon in and of itself, the self-segregation aspect of homophily can lead to bullying and other negative effects of discrimination. 

It’s great that we can find friends that we relate to and are similar to, just as long as we are careful not to treat others outside of our friend groups unkindly.

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