Social Inequality and Interaction

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Abstract

This paper looks at the effects of social inequality on where we live, who we associate with and who we choose (and hang on to) as our friends and partners. We may feel that we freely choose our friends or lovers, but our most personal and intimate choices are constrained by patterns of social similarity and ‘differential association’. The pattern of ‘homophily’ (the principle that we are more likely to associate with people who are socially similar to ourselves) has a major impact on social networks creating ‘social interaction distance’ between unequals. There is a social sorting process in the way we form social ties, so that the people we interact with tend to be similar to ourselves in education, social class, race/ethnicity, religion and attitudes. This has major consequences for our routes through life and worldviews, and for how inequality is reproduced.

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