Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks

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Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, co-membership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics.

Homophily limits people’s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Ties between non-similar individuals also dissolve at a higher rate, which sets the stage for the formation of niches (localized positions) within social space.

Millennials (and Gen Z, even more so), have the opportunity to reduce the causes of homophily; because the most basic source of homophily is space. In the past, we were restricted by people close to us and people we could call on the phone. In our future, the internet has removed barriers for us, although perhaps it has removed barriers so quickly that Millennials have to quickly adjust to interacting across difference.

Race and ethnicity are clearly the biggest divide in social networks in the United States. I am excited for Millennials to lead inclusion efforts - I believe we have the opportunity and obligation to foster unity. In order to do that, we need to be able to lead and make choices that reflect our future, not the generation before us.