Communication and Social Networks (Fall 2023)/marsden core summary

From CommunityData

This article analyzes data from the 1985 General Social Survey to provide a descriptive overview of the structure of core discussion networks in America. The networks examined are those alters that respondents named when asked to identify people "with whom you discussed matters important to you" over the last 6 months. The goal is to establish benchmark descriptions of major aspects of networks using a nationally representative sample.

The article examines measures of network size, density, and heterogeneity, as well as composition in terms of kin versus non-kin ties. Network size indicates social integration. Density, defined as the mean strength of ties between alters, measures network closure and potential for normative influence. Heterogeneity in characteristics like age and education reflect diversity of contacts.

The results show Americans' core networks are small (mean size around 3), kin-centered (55% kin on average), and dense (mean 0.61 on 0-1 scale). Nearly a quarter of respondents have marginal networks of 0-1 contacts. Networks are homogeneous compared to the population, especially racially/ethnically. Age and education diversity are 50-60% of sample diversity.

There is substantial variation across networks in size and heterogeneity. In 25% of networks, alter age diversity is less than 5 years; in 26% it exceeds 15 years. 30% of networks have education diversity less than 1 year; 27% exceed 2.5 years. Only 8% contain any race/ethnic diversity. Sex diversity is greater.

Differences are most pronounced by age and education. Network range is greatest for the young and middle-aged. Size drops with age, as does diversity. Education is positively associated with size, diversity, and non-kin composition. Blacks have smaller, less diverse networks than whites. Residents of larger places have lower density and more diversity.

The homogeneity relative to the population supports the characterization of these networks as "core" - they provide a small, dense, homogeneous environment centered on kinship. But the variability shows network range is constrained for older, less educated, rural respondents.

The data suggest the young, educated and urban have greater access to diverse contacts that may be beneficial for outcomes like information gathering. The standardized network measures allow examining links to outcomes like wellbeing.

In conclusion, the article provides a foundational descriptive analysis of core discussion networks using high-quality, nationally representative data. It establishes benchmark measures and documents subgroup differences relevant to research on social environments. The data will enable further network research.