Friendship and Identity in School

Research question/goal: 

The project’s overarching goal was to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that govern the emergence and change of adolescents’ social networks and ethnic and national identifications. Assuming that social and emotional integration mutually influence each other, we focussed on the empirical examination of the causal interactions between interethnic friendships and ethnic identifications. In addition, the project aimed to close a gap and provide information about the temporal development of ethnic identification over the course of adolescence.

Gathering suitable data was an important intermediate goal of the project. To this end, a survey instrument to record adolescents’ ethnic and national identity was developed and implemented in a repeated survey of over 2,700 adolescents in schools in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Over a period of four and a half years, the students were surveyed up to six times at an interval of nine months about their friendships in class and their ethnic and national identification.

The project’s main finding is that emotional integration affects social integration, but not vice versa. More precisely, this means that young people with a migration background who identify strongly with Germany are more likely to make friends with native peers. However, such friendships have no influence on the strength of their national identification. Rather, it shows that young people align the strength of their ethnic identification with that of their friends from the same country of origin. This strength, in turn, determines the selection of friends, since students with the same immigrant background do not make friends with each other simply because their families have the same country of origin, but only if both identify strongly with this country. With regard to the temporal development, the strength of both ethnic and national identification diminishes over the course of adolescence. Nevertheless, ethnic identification remains at a high level, especially when students experience discrimination on the grounds of their migration background.

Fact sheet

2008 to 2020
Data Sources: 
primary data collection
Geographic Space: