How Friendships Affect Racial Disparities in Academic Achievement
Jennifer A. Flashman, Yale University
Disparities in educational achievement exist across race and ethnicity in the United States. How do differences in the friendships made by adolescents from different race and ethnic backgrounds contribute to observed achievement disparities? Using data from Add Health and an instrumental variable approach, this article estimates the causal effect of friends’ average achievement on adolescents’ transcript GPA. I find that the size of friend effects on achievement vary dramatically across race/ethnicity. Friends have a modest effect on White adolescents’ GPAs. However, among Black adolescents, friend achievement has no significant effect on GPA. By contrast, Latino’s friends exert large effects on achievement. The consequence of these patterns is that differences in the size of friend effects help to create achievement disparities between Black and White students but diminish differences between Latino and White students.