How does the population structure of social settings shape the contexts in which friendships form? I advance a theoretical framework of consolidation as a measure of multidimensional social structure and use it to understand the intergroup dynamics underlying interethnic friendships among adolescents in Western European classrooms. My approach reveals barriers to interethnic friendships in more consolidated classrooms (in which students from different ethnic backgrounds also tend to differ in socioeconomic status). In other words, there is a strong positive association between consolidation and ethnic homophily, supporting the idea that the salience of ethnic boundaries is contingent on the joint configuration of socioeconomic status and ethnicity within social contexts. As populations and social settings are increasingly characterized by multidimensional configurations of attributes that range from superdiversity to consolidation, scholars should analyze multiple axes of differentiation to adequately capture the conditions under which intergroup boundaries are brighter.
Linda Zhao uses social networks and computational social science to analyze the contextual processes underlying differential outcomes, especially in relation to ethnic and racial inequality, immigrant integration, and policing. Broadly speaking, her research asks how social contexts (such as levels of diversity or inequality in a population) shape intergroup dynamics in networks and organizations, how social networks shape our behaviors and decisions, and how networks generate inequality. Zhao is currently a Frank H.T. Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Population Center and earned a PhD from Harvard in Sociology in 2020, an MA in Statistics from Harvard in 2017, and a BA in Economics from Princeton.