Friday, May 17, 2019

How are we doing on mixing the races?

One of the strongest findings in sociology is that people follow the principle of homophily--they naturally associate with people like themselves.  It goes without saying that sociologists never take the next logical step and conclude that this universal tendency is rooted in biology; that it is very resistant to change; that it's counterproductive to swim against a very strong tide. The typical view of a sociologist when it comes to a social universal is, "Yes, we see it everywhere, so naturally, we should get rid of it!"

Nowhere is this truer than in the case of race.  Around the entire globe, people of the same race tend to gravitate to each other, so in America, we're bound and determined to see the day when a random white person has all non-white buddies.

So how are we doing on this?  I looked at a question given in the General Social Survey where participants were asked to list friends (sample size = 1,300).  I assume that the first person mentioned is a close friend, if not the closest friend.  When the respondent is white, how often was the first friend mentioned black?  Two percent of the time.  Black respondents first mentioned a white friend 11.2% of the time.

If making friends were truly random, the distribution of friends would match the racial distribution of the population. (We'll set aside the goal of preferring friends from other races.)  For example, 13% of the first friends mentioned by whites should be black since blacks are 13% of the population.  But when I do the math that takes into account the size of the black and white populations, blacks are 37.1 times more likely to say their first-mentioned friend is black rather than white. A white is 9.3 times more likely to mention a white person.  I doubt the numbers were much different in 1960.

For all America's efforts, biology seems to be stronger than sociology.

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