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‘Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks’ by Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, & James M Cook (2001)

Published onMay 30, 2020
‘Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks’ by Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, & James M Cook (2001)

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual review of sociology, 27(1), 415-444.



Similarity breeds connection. This principle—the homophily principle—structures network ties of every type, including marriage, friendship, work, advice, support, information transfer, exchange, comembership, and other types of relationship. The result is that people's personal networks are homogeneous with regard to many sociodemographic, behavioral, and intrapersonal characteristics. Homophily limits people's social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience. Homophily in race and ethnicity creates the strongest divides in our personal environments, with age, religion, education, occupation, and gender following in roughly that order. Geographic propinquity, families, organizations, and isomorphic positions in social systems all create contexts in which homophilous relations form. Ties between non-similar individuals also dissolve at a higher rate, which sets the stage for the formation of niches (localized positions) within social space. We argue for more research on: (a) the basic ecological processes that link organizations, associations, cultural communities, social movements, and many other social forms; (b) the impact of multiplex ties on the patterns of homophily; and (c) the dynamics of network change over time through which networks and other social entities co-evolve.

Critical Annotation

Identifying the Dataset

The authors state that homophily “is the principle that a contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people.” The concept has the potential to typify groups of people, and yet, is a concept around which many studies on social networks center themselves, particularly in quantitative studies that aim to predict gender or sexuality. This paper does not conduct a quantitative, algorithmic, or statistical analysis, but does a review of “homophily,” the various dimensions through which it can be observed, the social structures that reproduce it, and how these insights may be helpful for future research.


The method for this paper is a literature review and analysis. Mentioned above, first the concept is discussed, the empirical evidence of the phenomenon, the types of network relationships attributed to homophily, the dimensions which induce homophily, and how social structures allow for communication to operate through groups of similar people. These steps conclude with an understanding of how research can move forward. It is important to note that this paper was written in 2001, before the advent and rise of social media and quantitative analyses of social media content.

Key Assumptions Stated by Authors

Based on various studies at the intersection of gender and homophily, the authors argue that gender and sex become apparent segregators between girls/women and boys/men, in part, due to schooling, kinship, and occupational social structures. In the work setting for example, the majority gender (more number of people) are likely to have more homophilous networks than the minority gender. In the case of schooling, children become aware of their gender identity and its implications at a young age - this ultimately has an effect on their social circles. The authors are cognisant of the risk of essentialisation when discussing homophily; therefore, their discussion of various studies draws connections between the various structures and dimensions that are responsible for creating and recreating certain realities.

Inferred Assumptions

It is commendable that the authors are creating connections between various spheres of life to study how micro and macro assumptions and networks come into existence. However, the various aspects that are studied are quite static in their definition. This might be the case because the authors rely so heavily on existing studies which strictly define attributes such as gender; however, it is important to recognise that the connotations behind each network discussed in these papers can be expanded.

Evaluating Results

The authors call for further multiplexity, dynamicity, and the simultaneous and integrated evolution of different networks. In terms that are more popular and widely used today, the authors essentially call for intersectionality. The scope of this paper covers a wide range of topics, spheres, and strata of life - but it is difficult to translate all of these findings temporally and spatially. Conducting a similar study with research in a variety of settings (Global North and Global South) would be helpful. Additionally, a study comparing how these social instruments and concepts are present in today’s studies and analyses of social media would be an interesting extension of this work.

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