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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The proximity of dating partners in peer friendship networks has important implications for the diffusion of health-risk behaviors and adolescent social development.
Friends first? the peer network origins of adolescent dating
We derive two competing hypotheses for the friendship-romance association. The first predicts that daters are proximally positioned in friendship networks prior to dating and that opposite-gender friends are likely to transition to dating.
The second predicts that dating typically crosses group boundaries and opposite-gender friends are unlikely to later date. primarily support the second hypothesis: romantic partners are unlikely to be friends in the year or share the same cohesive subgroup, and opposite-gender friends are unlikely to transition into dating. For more than fifty years, scholars have understood the importance of peer contexts for the emergence of teen dating, but only recently has research begun to systematically address the topic with adequate data and methods.
Additional research on the friendship-romance association is warranted not only because it bridges the burgeoning area of network science with traditional theories of social development, but also because it provides potentially important insights into how behaviors and attitudes—particularly risky ones—are diffused in adolescent peer networks.
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If this were the case, prevention programs may become more effective by developing peer resistance strategies aimed at the friends of dating partners. This study therefore examines the diffusion potential of dating relationships by focusing on the friendship origins of adolescent romance. Dunphy was among the first to document a connection between peer contexts and romantic relationships. Observing the friendships of Australian adolescents of varying ages, he developed a sequential stage theory of adolescent peer structure and romantic development.
His stages moved from the unisexual peer groups common to early adolescence, to the mixed-gender groups seen in middle adolescence, and ended with the disintegration of groups in favor of romantic dy in later adolescence. Central to his argument were propositions that popular male and female group members crossed unisexual group boundaries to initiate cross-gender friendship and dating interactions, and that larger heterosexual groups i. Scholars have recently begun utilizing social network data to examine questions about the developmental contexts of romantic relationships.
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Connolly and colleagues have produced an impressive set of studies in this area. Indeed, Connolly and colleagues Connolly et al. They outlined four stages infatuation, affiliative, intimate, and committed that situate romantic development in peer contexts and emphasize the progression from unisexual to mixed-gender peer groups led by socially skilled early daters. Although informative, prior research on friendship networks and romance has yet to fully examine a of issues. Of particular interest for this study is how pre-existing opposite-gender friendships potentially transition into dating relationships.
Do dating couples emerge from proximal friendship ties, or do they tend to connect partners from distinct groups or distal network positions? The answer to this question has important implications for peer-network behavioral diffusion processes. Our paper tests an assumption of this argument i. If dating partners are not friends before becoming dating partners, or if they are not proximally positioned in peer networks, then their role as network bridges becomes more likely. Findings that dating adolescents first have mixed-gender friendships appear contrary to the argument that dating helps to bridge peer groups, as opposite-gender friendships could be interpreted as subsequently transitioning into dating relationships.
However, such friendship-to-romance transitions may be largely absent during adolescence for at least two reasons. Group members who remain predominantly same-gender during adolescence may become jealous or fear displacement should opposite-gender friends transition to dating. Supporting this reasoning, Hand and Furman found that jealousy associated with competition for romantic partners was the most common perceived risk of adolescent same-gender friendships. The threat to group cohesion may be particularly pronounced when a couple dissolves, as group members would be forced to choose sides and further fracture the group.
A second obstacle for friend-to-romance transitions occurs at the dyadic level. Romantic rejection would not only elicit group sanctions and public embarrassment, but also threaten a valued opposite-gender friendship. Similar concerns were voiced by Canadian 9 th and 12 th graders asked about the challenges of other-sex friends McDougall and Hymel Given the Collins MS friendship dating pitfalls of intra-group dating, adolescents may primarily look outside their immediate friendships for dating partners.
As Dunphy long ago articulated, the single-gender peer groups common to early adolescence require that daters look outside their immediate friendships for heterosexual dating partners. A similar process may Collins MS friendship dating throughout early and middle adolescence as friendship networks become increasingly mixed-gender. Risks inherent in initiating within-group romantic relationships may thus result in daters searching outside their friendship groups for romantic partners and prior cross-gender friendships rarely transitioning to dating relationships.
Extending this logic to romantic relationships implies that daters—who are likely to be similar on many characteristics— should begin as friends or emerge from the same friendship group. Alternatively, partner homophily may occur because daters come from non-adjacent, but structurally equivalentnetwork positions. For example, the leaders of two peer groups may have no direct friendship tie — in fact they may be enemies — yet they are likely to be well-known to each other and share a variety of characteristics, including assertiveness, physical attractiveness, intelligence, and sociability.
With regard to adolescent romantic relationships, opposite-gender peers who are distant in a peer friendship network, yet occupy similar structural positions, may share other attributes and be more attracted to one another than non-equivalent peers. The resulting exposure to new peer contexts may then increase behavioral diffusion beyond the behavioral similarity associated with a shared structural position.
Two competing hypotheses motivate the current study. The first hypothesis is that dating partners emerge from proximal friendships and peer groups, while the second states that dating partners are unlikely to be friends or be in the same friendship group prior to dating, but are likely to occupy structurally equivalent positions in friendship networks. Testing these hypotheses requires a data source where both adolescent friendship and dating nominations were collected over time and in settings with clear network boundaries e.
Few data meet these requirements. Using this data, we identify romantic relationships based on student-reported 9 th grade dating nominations.
We first replicate prior research by examining the association between 8 th grade mixed-gender friendships and 9 th grade dating. To explore the friendship hypotheses, we next measure the proportion of romantic dy who were friends in the year prior to their relationship. To put this percentage into context, we also examine how many 8 th grade opposite-gender friendships did not transition to dating either because they remained friends or dissolved the relationship.
We also estimate the average sociometric distance at 8 th grade of 9 th grade daters and compare this to distances between non-dating friendships. Finally, to test the structural equivalence hypothesis, we compare the 8 th grade egocentric network properties e. As is typical of most non-metropolitan communities in the midwestern and northeastern U.
Students completed confidential pencil and paper questionnaires administered during school hours in the Fall of 6th grade, Spring of 6th grade, and in the Spring of 7th, 8th, and 9th grades.
The present study uses data from the 8 th and 9 th grade waves median age 13—15when dating questions were introduced and peer network measures were available for analyses. We lost of these respondents because their partner was not surveyed at both waves. We removed one of the duplicate reciprocal couples, resulting in unique dy. It should be noted that we were unable to determine why dating nominations were unreciprocated.
We included reciprocated and unreciprocated couples in our analyses, but also restricted our sample to reciprocated nominations and found virtually identical to those reported. As our analytical method requires partners to be uniquely identified by gender, 24 couples were removed from the sample because they named a same-gender partner.
Finally, because our interest is in the origins of dating relationships i.
Thus, couples were removed because one or both partners indicated they were already together in 8 th grade. Our final sample of matched, newly formed couples where both partners are interviewed at both waves is 9 th grade dating couples. Of our final couples sample, 86 daters nominated a romantic partner and were nominated by a third respondent as a partner, so that the sample of couples consists of unique daters.
As we are not estimating multivariate models where dependence would bias standard error estimates, it was unnecessary to exclude dy with shared daters e. Including the non-independent dy also avoids arbitrary decisions of which to exclude from analyses. We return to potential issues of sample selectivity and generalizability in the Discussion. Network data were collected using an open name generator.
Students named up to seven friends in their own grade by writing the first and last names of each friend on the survey form which were then matched to student rosters. Note that friendship nominations were not categorized by gender, so that same or opposite-gender nominations could be listed in any order.
As with dating nominations, we included friendships that were not reciprocated in our reported analyses less than one-quarter of all friendship dy were reciprocal and estimated models with only reciprocated friendships and dating pairs and found similar to those reported.
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Using the friendship nomination data described above, independent i. A value of 1. The algorithm then evaluates whether reasing each student to another friendship group would improve the modularity score similar to Frank, This process was repeated until no new changes were made. Based on these thresholds, there must be at least two youth of each gender for groups with 5 to 9 members and at least 3 youth of each gender for groups with 10 to 14 members.
This matrix has a row and column for each group, and the values of the cells are the of ties from the row group to the column group. We then transform the simple of ties to density of ties divided by of possible tiesand treat this group-level matrix as a valued network. By calculating Bonacich centrality Bonacich, for indegree i. Groups therefore have higher centrality if they receive nominations from other central groups. As the distribution Collins MS friendship dating centrality scores was right skewed with extreme outliers, outliers with scores above 2.
Friendship nominations were also used to compute individual-level network centrality measures. Indegree Centrality was calculated as the of times each student was named as a friend, divided by the of possible nominations that could have been received i. A square root transformation was then applied to reduce skewness and outliers Osgood et al. Bonacich centrality is a weighted degree centrality score in the eigenvector family of centrality scores similar to the Rank algorithm used by Google Bonacich, Substantively, this gives higher weights to the ties received from other popular youth.
Outliers with scores above 3. Geodesic distance is the shortest of steps between two actors in a network. For our study, geodesic distance is the shortest path between two adolescent students in their 8 th grade school friendship networks. This measure allows us to estimate the network social distance between new dating partners prior to the beginning of their relationships, and comparing these distances to those of other newly-formed friendship ties. Geodesic distances cannot be calculated for students who are not part of the same network component, meaning that dy where one of the actors is an isolate i.
Table 1 lists variable descriptive statistics for our focal sample. The latter is intuitive given that our sample consists of couples where both partners were in the same school and grade.
Many of the unexamined daters would have partners who were older or younger than themselves and therefore in a different grade or in another school. Our dating sample is also more conventional and advantaged than unexamined daters and non-daters. Our daters are less likely to receive free lunches and more likely to be religious than other students in their grade. They are closer to their parents, get better grades, and are less likely to be delinquent than other daters.