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The origins of asymmetric ties in friendship networks: From status differential to self-perceived centrality

  • WEIHUA AN (a1) and WILL R. MCCONNELL (a2)

Asymmetric ties make up a significant proportion of ties in friendship networks. But little is known about their origins. Prior research has suggested treating them either as “accidental” (e.g., resulting from constraints in name generators) or “aspirational” (i.e., the attempts of individuals to pursue relationships with higher status peers). In this paper, we show that self-perception can also explain the occurrence of asymmetric ties. We argue that under the general norm of reciprocity, actors with high self-perceived centrality will more likely send out ties to others than their counterparts. Supposing that outgoing ties are similarly reciprocated by peers, then actors with high self-perceived centrality will also entail more asymmetric ties. We test this idea along with the competing arguments using exponential random graph models (ERGMs) on network data collected from over 4,000 students in China. Consistent with previous findings, we find that asymmetric ties reflect status differences, but probably more strongly so for difference in individual status characteristics than difference in social positional status. More importantly, we find that students with high self-perceived centrality are about twice as likely to send asymmetric ties as their peers. Last, we examine the implications of our findings for future network research.

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Network Science
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