When Ethnicity and Gender Align: Classroom Composition, Friendship Segregation, and Collective Identities in European Schools

2021, with C. Kroneberg and A. Wimmer

European Sociological Review 37 (online first), doi: 10.1093/esr/jcab013

Figure 1

Using survey data on school classes in four European countries, we study how the social relations and identities of adolescents develop depending on the degree to which ethnic and gender boundaries align with each other. Minority students will have mostly same-ethnic friends, we find, when classmates of different ethnic origins tend to be of the opposite sex as well. Within such local topographies of boundaries, minority students will also end up identifying less as members of the nation. In contrast, majority students are not affected by the alignment of ethnic and gender boundaries, and gender identities of both minorities and majorities are less malleable as well: Neither friendship segregation along gender divides nor the development of gender role attitudes depend on the degree to which gender and ethnic origin align. We argue that gender boundaries and feelings of national belonging among majority students are widely taken for granted and thus less sensitive to attribute alignment at the local level. The article builds a bridge between the literatures on ethnic segregation of friendship networks, adolescent ethnic identities, and gender role attitudes by integrating them into a structuralist framework that identifies the conditions under which the local configuration of boundaries affects social life.

Neighbourhood effects on acculturation attitudes among minority and majority adolescents in Germany

2020, with D. Kretschmer

Urban Studies 57(16): 3363-3380, doi: 10.1177/0042098019897890


Attitudes on whether  immigrants should culturally adapt to their receiving society or maintain the customs of their origin context vary – not only between majority and minority populations but also within these groups. Focusing on adolescents in the German context, this study investigates whether such acculturation attitudes are shaped by the ethnic composition of a person’s neighbourhood context. Building on arguments from theories of intergroup contact, concentration effects and reactive ethnicity, we expect different effects for minority and majority adolescents. To empirically investigate these expectations, we combine survey data on N = 4621 adolescents and their parents with geocoded information on the characteristics of their neighbourhood contexts. Exploiting an intergenerational set-up to account for neighbourhood selection, we find indication of neighbourhood effects among minority adolescents. Among majority youth, acculturation attitudes turn out to be unrelated to neighbourhood ethnic composition.

More Than a Sorting Machine: Ethnic Boundary Making in a Stratified School System

2019, with C. Kroneberg (pdf)

American Journal of Sociology 125(2): 431-484, doi: 10.1086/705561

This article examines the structural conditions that shape ethnic boundary making in the school setting. While previous work has focused on the ethnic composition of student bodies, this study places schools in their institutional and local contexts. The authors argue that the formation of identities and networks varies across local areas depending on the extent of ethnic stratification across schools. Empirically, the authors turn to the case of Germany, where the role of schools as producers of categorical inequalities is particularly obvious. The analysis links large-scale survey data on adolescents’ identification and networks with administrative geocoded information on local stratification across secondary schools. The authors find that minority students in schools with identical ethnic compositions show different inclinations to identify as a majority group member and to form friendships with majority peers, depending on the local extent of ethnic stratification across schools. To place these findings in a cross-national perspective, the authors identify scope conditions of these mechanisms of boundary making and discuss their presence in other countries and school systems. The results support recent theories of immigrant incorporation and offer a more contextualized understanding of ethnic boundary making in schools.

Between-School Ability Tracking and Ethnic Segregation in Secondary Schooling


Social Forces 98(1): 119-146, doi: 10.1093/sf/soy099


Between-school ability tracking—the assignment of students to different school types based on their prior achievement—is usually associated with increased ethnic segregation across schools. This article argues that stronger between-school ability tracking is not only associated with stronger ethnic sorting into school types, thus increasing segregation. At the same time, it hampers majority flight, majority members’ avoidance of exposure to minority members, thus decreasing segregation. To identify the two-fold effect of tracking the article exploits a unique feature of the German secondary school system: regional variation in the strength of between-school ability tracking. Analyses rely on administrative data entailing geocoded information on all secondary schools in Germany in 2008/2009. Results corroborate expectations of a two-fold effect: there is indication that between-school ability tracking increases segregation via more sorting into tracks while at the same time decreasing it via less school sorting within each track and via less spatial sorting. This suggests that school reforms changing tracked school systems into more comprehensive school systems may have a weaker desegregating impact than expected.

Name-based Measures of Neighborhood Composition: How Telling are Neighbors’ Names?

2017, with J. Dollmann

Survey Research Methods 11(4): 435-450, doi: 10.18148/srm/2017.v11i4.7214

krusedollmann2017Name-based ethnicity classification is a common tool in the sampling of minority populations. In recent years, however, it has become a popular technique to construct measures of neighborhood composition if more objective data are unavailable. In this article, we test the accuracy of such name-based measures of neighborhood composition, relying on the example of German neighborhoods. Drawing upon previous research, we assert that ethnic groups differ as to how well they are identifiable via name-based classification. Moreover, the ethnic mix in neighborhoods varies systematically, the ethnicities of immigrants residing in majority-dominated neighborhoods differing from those residing in minority-dominated neighborhoods. Taken together, these two notions imply that a name-based classification bias should be neighborhood-specific. Results indicate a tendency to overestimate majority shares in minority-dominated neighborhoods and slightly underestimate them in majority-dominated neighborhoods. All analyses rely on data from the “Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey in Four European Countries (CILS4EU)” as well as on neighborhood compositional data from local statistics of two German cities. The article closes with a discussion of potential strategies to cope with the name-based classification bias.

The SES-Specific Neighbourhood Effect on Interethnic Friendship Formation. The Case of Adolescent Immigrants in Germany


European Sociological Review 33(2): 182-194, doi: 10.1093/esr/jcw056

Neighbourhoods with high ethnic concentrations are argued to steer immigrants into lives separate from the native population. Taking adolescent immigrants in Germany as an example, this article argues and shows why the link between the ethnic composition of immigrants’ neighbourhoods and their friendships depends on immigrants’ socio-economic status (i.e. SES-specific neighbourhood effects on interethnic friendships); why high-SES immigrants living around more natives have more native friends, whereas for low-SES immigrants, this association is weaker.


Introducing a formal account of interethnic friendship formation, the article proposes four potential explanations, three being empirically corroborated. First, SES differences are partly an artefact because of model misspecification. Second, low-SES immigrants attend more concentrated meeting contexts (i.e. schools) than high-SES immigrants, yielding different opportunities for native friends even when neighbourhood compositions are identical. Third, SES-specific friendship preferences may also be responsible. There is no indication that SES groups differ in how much they rely on their neighbourhoods when making friends. Additional analyses conducted on adolescent immigrants in the Netherlands confirm these patterns. All presented analyses make use of ego-network data from the first wave of the CILS4EU data, accompanied by small-scale neighbourhood information from an external data source.

From neighbors to school friends? How adolescents’ place of residence relates to same-ethnic school friendships

2016, with S. Smith, F. van Tubergen, and I. Maas

Social Networks 44: 130-142, doi: 10.1016/j.socnet.2015.07.004

kruseetal2016This study examines to what extent adolescents’ place of residence is related to the opportunities and the preferences to befriend same-ethnic classmates. Analyzing 3345 students within 158 German and Dutch school classes, we find that sharing a neighborhood provides additional meeting opportunities to become friends in class as adolescents are likely to befriend classmates who live nearby them or who live nearby a friend of them (propinquity mechanism). However, this hardly explains why adolescent friendship networks in school classes tend to be ethnically homogeneous. Also, we find no convincing evidence that an adolescent’s preference for same-ethnic friends in class varies with the share of outgroup members in his/her neighborhood (exposure mechanism).