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Big schools are more segregated than small ones?

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Posted November 11, 2014

Population structure among different secondary schools varies strongly. Some are characterized by profound social divisions. Others however are more egalitarian. What are the roots of these differences?

Image credit: Paradox 56 via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Image credit: Paradox 56 via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Daniel A. McFarland at Stanford University and his colleagues attempted to answer this difficult question. Results of their study indicate that these well-known divergences are caused by school sizes, racial heterogeneity and organizational differentiation.

American scientists based their study on the so called ecological approach to social networks. “An ecological approach to social networks examines how features of the social environment shape network structures by affecting the nature of interactions and relationships, and how those relations, in turn, affect the social environment,” the researchers explain.

This is worthwhile theoretical innovation because network scientists usually do not explore how social networks are shaped by their environment. However, this practice leads to serious empirical problems. It is known that the same network formation mechanisms, such as homophily, can lead to different outcomes. Mcfarland and his associates hoped that a closer look at external factors, such as educational climate or population size, will help to solve some unresolved problems in empirical research.

“Our basic research design involves first identifying the micro-mechanisms generating net-work structure using the exponential random graph model framework; we then examine variability in the model coefficients by setting, using a multilevel framework to identify ecological moderation,” they say.

Sociologists demonstrated that variation cannot be explained by micro-mechanisms of tie formation. In fact, they managed to show that the same behavioral mechanisms were used to create totally different social realities. Their study reveal that patterns of interactions are highly affected by school size, composition and organizational structure.

“As settings become more marked by external identity inclusion—that is, as schools become larger, less organizationally differentiated, and more racially heterogeneous—the prevalence of clustering, hierarchy, and segregation increases. In contrast, as contexts become more marked by external identity exclusion—that is, as schools become smaller and characterized more by structured interaction—they have more random and egalitarian mixing among students,” the scholars claim.

Article: Mcfarland A.D. et al., 2014, Network Ecology and Adolescent Social Structure, American Sociological Review, source link.

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