New Book: The Company We Keep: Interracial Friendships and Romantic Relationships from Adolescence to Adulthood

October 16, 2019

With hate crimes on the rise and social movements like Black Lives Matter bringing increased attention to the issue of police brutality, the American public continues to be divided by issues of race. How do adolescents and young adults form friendships and romantic relationships that bridge the racial divide? In The Company We Keep, sociologists Grace Kao, Kara Joyner, and Kelly Stamper Balistreri examine how race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors affect the development of interracial friendships and romantic relationships among youth. They highlight two different factors that increase the chances of having an interracial romantic relationship in young adulthood: attending a diverse school and having an interracial friendship or romance in adolescence. 

While research on interracial social ties has often focused on whites and blacks, Hispanics are the largest minority group and Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States. The Company We Keep examines friendships and romantic relationships among blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asian Americans to better understand the full spectrum of contemporary race relations. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, the authors explore the social ties of more than 15,000 individuals from their first survey responses as middle and high school students in the mid-1990s through young adulthood nearly fifteen years later. They find that while approval for interracial marriages has increased and is nearly universal among young people, interracial friendships and romantic relationships remain relatively rare, especially for whites and blacks. The figure below shows the steady, but relatively small, increase in the number of interracial friendships among young people from 1976 to 2014. 

The authors’ findings about the relationship patterns of specific populations are illuminating. They find that black women are particularly disadvantaged in forming interracial romantic relationships, while Asian men are disadvantaged in their formation of any romantic relationships, both as adolescents and as young adults. They also find that people in same-sex romantic relationships are more likely to have partners from a different racial group than are people in different-sex relationships. The authors pay close attention to how the formation of interracial friendships and romantic relationships depends on opportunities for interracial contact. They find that the shares of students choosing different-race friends and romantic partners are greater in schools that are more racially diverse, indicating that school segregation has a profound impact on young people’s social ties. 

Kao, Joyner, and Balistreri analyze the ways school diversity and adolescent interracial contact intersect to lay the groundwork for interracial relationships in young adulthood. The Company We Keep provides compelling insights and hope for the future of living and loving across racial divides. 

Read more or purchase a copy of the book.

 

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