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Hanging Out: Features of Urban Elementary Students’ Classroom Social Networks
Unformatted Document Text:  Peers serve as a primary source of socialization for children and adolescents. Corsaro and Eder (1990) emphasized the importance of the construction of peer cultures in preparing children and adolescents for the adult world. Additionally, peer group influence has been cited as a causal mechanism of both deviant and positive youth outcomes (Cairns & Cairns 1994). Confirming these assertions, research has indicated that relations with peers impact a variety of behaviors in childhood and adolescence including aggression (e.g., Cairns, Cairns, Neckerman, Gest, & Gariepy1988; Salmivalli, Huttunen, & Lagerspetz 1997), academic success (e.g., Ryan 2001), depression (Kiesner, Poulin, & Nicotra 2003), and problem behaviors (e.g., Ennett & Bauman 1993; Ennett & Bauman 1994; Kiesner et al. 2003). These studies suggest that peer social networks are critical to the understanding of child development and the advancement of interventions targeting childhood outcomes. Given the importance of peers in childhood socialization, there is a need for systematic study of the structure and properties of children’s peer social networks. Researchers have started to build a literature base that examines peer social networks in their own right (e.g., Ennett & Bauman 1996; Shrum & Cheek 1987; Urberg, Degirmencioglu, Tolson, & Halliday- Scher 1995; Degirmencioglu, Urberg, Tolsen, & Richard 1998). With the exception of Shrum and Cheek (1987), however, most of these studies have focused exclusively on adolescent networks. More studies are needed to describe the peer network structures of younger children. To date, much of the current research on childhood peer networks has focused on how individual-level attributes, such as sex, age, and race relate to the features of peer social networks (e.g., Benenson, 1990; Shrum & Cheek 1987; Ennett & Bauman 1996). The main aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive description of peer social networks among third through eighth grade students with respect to these individual-level attributes. To this end, I review existing literature linking sex, age, and race to network features, and assess the relationship between these demographic features and network properties. Sex and the Structure of Peer Networks. Two cultures theory asserts that boys and girls exhibit distinct patterns of peer relations (see Underwood 2003 for a brief review; Maccoby, 1998). According to proponents of the two cultures theory, socialization results in different gender- based preferences regarding peer relationships. Specifically, two culture theorists suggest that girls prefer to play in smaller groups that emphasize close relationships and intimacy. In contrast, boys prefer to play in larger groups that focus on engagement in sports and activities. Several researchers have demonstrated key differences in the structure of male and female peer networks in childhood and adolescence that support elements of the two cultures theory. Specifically, key findings have emphasized sex differences in network size, network integration, and homophily. Network Size Ethnographic studies. Consistent with two cultures theory, ethnographic observational studies in school-based settings have indicated differences in the size of elementary school girls’ and boys’ play groups and the types of activities in which they engage (see Thorne 1993 for a review; Goodwin 2002; Lever 1978). More specifically, these studies have demonstrated that while boys prefer to congregate in large groups and engage in competitive games, girls are more likely to play in small groups and engage in activities that encourage intimacy and collaboration. For example, in her ethnography of ten to twelve year olds, Goodwin (2002) noted that boys dominated the sports fields while girls “preferred to play games where they were in ecologically close huddles, permitting conversation” (p. 399). Network analyses. Network analyses have yielded mixed support for the two cultures theory. Two studies using divergent network methodologies (i.e., reciprocated best friend ratings and social cognitive mapping) and samples (i.e., American and Finnish children) confirmed that consistent with findings from observational studies, elementary school boys’ peer groups are significantly larger than girls’ peer groups (Benenson 1990; Lagerspetz et al. 1988). Furthermore, it appears that girls and boys are actively involved in shaping the size of their networks. In an elementary school sample, Eder and

Authors: Neal, Jennifer.
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Peers serve as a primary source of socialization for children and adolescents. Corsaro and Eder (1990) emphasized the 
importance of the construction of peer cultures in preparing children and adolescents for the adult world. Additionally, peer 
group influence has been cited as a causal mechanism of both deviant and positive youth outcomes (Cairns & Cairns 1994).  
Confirming these assertions, research has indicated that relations with peers impact a variety of behaviors in childhood and 
adolescence including aggression (e.g., Cairns, Cairns, Neckerman, Gest, & Gariepy1988; Salmivalli, Huttunen, & Lagerspetz 
1997), academic success (e.g., Ryan 2001), depression (Kiesner, Poulin, & Nicotra 2003), and problem behaviors (e.g., Ennett 
& Bauman 1993; Ennett & Bauman 1994; Kiesner et al. 2003).  These studies suggest that peer social networks are critical to 
the understanding of child development and the advancement of interventions targeting childhood outcomes. 
 
 Given the importance of peers in childhood socialization, there is a need for systematic study of the structure and 
properties of children’s peer social networks. Researchers have started to build a literature base that examines peer social 
networks in their own right (e.g., Ennett & Bauman 1996; Shrum & Cheek 1987; Urberg, Degirmencioglu, Tolson, & Halliday-
Scher 1995; Degirmencioglu, Urberg, Tolsen, & Richard 1998).  With the exception of Shrum and Cheek (1987), however, 
most of these studies have focused exclusively on adolescent networks. More studies are needed to describe the peer network 
structures of younger children.   
 
To date, much of the current research on childhood peer networks has focused on how individual-level attributes, such 
as sex, age, and race relate to the features of peer social networks (e.g., Benenson, 1990; Shrum & Cheek 1987; Ennett & 
Bauman 1996). The main aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive description of peer social networks among third 
through eighth grade students with respect to these individual-level attributes. To this end, I review existing literature linking 
sex, age, and race to network features, and assess the relationship between these demographic features and network properties. 
Sex and the Structure of Peer Networks. 
 
Two cultures theory asserts that boys and girls exhibit distinct patterns of peer relations (see Underwood 2003 for a 
brief review; Maccoby, 1998). According to proponents of the two cultures theory, socialization results in different gender-
based preferences regarding peer relationships.  Specifically, two culture theorists suggest that girls prefer to play in smaller 
groups that emphasize close relationships and intimacy.  In contrast, boys prefer to play in larger groups that focus on 
engagement in sports and activities. Several researchers have demonstrated key differences in the structure of male and female 
peer networks in childhood and adolescence that support elements of the two cultures theory.  Specifically, key findings have 
emphasized sex differences in network size, network integration, and homophily. 
Network Size 
Ethnographic studies. Consistent with two cultures theory, ethnographic observational studies in school-based settings 
have indicated differences in the size of elementary school girls’ and boys’ play groups and the types of activities in which they 
engage (see Thorne 1993 for a review; Goodwin 2002; Lever 1978).  More specifically, these studies have demonstrated that 
while boys prefer to congregate in large groups and engage in competitive games, girls are more likely to play in small groups 
and engage in activities that encourage intimacy and collaboration. For example, in her ethnography of ten to twelve year olds, 
Goodwin (2002) noted that boys dominated the sports fields while girls “preferred to play games where they were in 
ecologically close huddles, permitting conversation” (p. 399).   
Network analyses. Network analyses have yielded mixed support for the two cultures theory.  Two studies using 
divergent network methodologies (i.e., reciprocated best friend ratings and social cognitive mapping) and samples (i.e., 
American and Finnish children) confirmed that consistent with findings from observational studies, elementary school boys’ 
peer groups are significantly larger than girls’ peer groups (Benenson 1990; Lagerspetz et al. 1988).  Furthermore, it appears 
that girls and boys are actively involved in shaping the size of their networks.  In an elementary school sample, Eder and 


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