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Homophily Biases: Definition, Example & Overview

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are interested in how people connect with and relate to one another, you might find yourself wondering about the homophily bias. This lesson discusses what this bias means and why it is relevant to our social worlds.

Understanding Homophily Bias

As a college student, Joanna really loves her friends. She gets so much social and emotional support and pleasure out of spending time with them! Looking around her campus, though, Joanna becomes a little uncomfortable. She wonders why so many of her friends are white women from big, urban areas, just like she is.

Joanna's college is diverse, yet again and again, she finds herself making friends with others who share many of her broad identity categories: race, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual orientation, among others.

In a psychology class, Joanna learns that her preferences are because she has a homophily bias, or a tendency towards others who are similar to her. Joanna learns that the homophily bias is pretty ubiquitous among people, and there are many reasons for it.

For example:

  • We are more familiar with the value systems and habits of those we have big categories in common with.
  • We may have more to talk about, or more hobbies to share, with those we have something in common with.
  • We may be unconsciously biased against or frightened of people who are different from us.
  • We may believe that people who are unlike us are biased against us, whether or not they actually are.
  • When we have been marginalized in some way by society, we are likely to feel safer and more comfortable with others who have also experienced this kind of marginalization.

Joanna feels like she now understands more about what the homophily bias is, and as she looks around her campus and world, she starts to see more examples.

Examples of Homophily Bias

Joanna learns about many different places where homophily bias plays out over the course of a lifespan.

Early Childhood

Young children often become friends with others who share parts of their identity. Joanna knows her nieces are only friends with other girls, and her nephews spend time mostly with other boys. The stereotype that young children do not notice differences is not really true; young children form in groups and cliques based on similarities in identity and social status.

Adolescence

Joanna thinks back to her teenage years and remembers that the African American students at her high school always sat together at lunch. In fact, when she pictures the high school cafeteria, it looks pretty racially segregated! This is because adolescents, too, have a homophily bias and feel more comfortable with those who share aspects of their identity, perhaps especially when they are vulnerable to prejudice and discrimination.

Adulthood

Joanna knows the phrase 'old boys' club', which refers to the fact that many white businessmen form in groups based on their social status, racial identity, and gender, excluding others both explicitly and implicitly. She realizes that the homophily bias plays out in many workplaces and other adult communities.

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