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Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You Do

Scott L. Feld
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 96, No. 6 (May, 1991), pp. 1464-1477
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2781907
Page Count: 14
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Abstract

It is reasonable to suppose that individuals use the number of firends that their friends have as one basis for determining whether they, themselves, have an adequate number of friends. This article shows that, if individuals compare themselves with their friends, it is likely that most of them will feel relatively inadequate. Data on friendship drawn from James Coleman's (1961) classic study The Adolescent Society are used to illustratite the phenomenon that most people have fewer friends have. The logic underlying the phenomenon is mathematically explored, showing that the mean number of friends of friends is always greater than the mean number of friends of individuals. Further analysis shows that the proportion of individuals who have fewer friends than the mean number of friends their own friends have is affected by the exact arrangement fo friendships in a social network. This disproportionate experiencing of friends with many friends is related to a set of abstractly similar "class size paradoxes" that includes such diverse phenomena as the tendencies for college students to experience the mean class size as larger than it actually is and for people to experience beaches and parks as more crowded than they usually are.

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