Perhaps Regina George and the ‘Plastics’ should have been male because contrary to what teen movies would have you believe, boys are more ‘cliquey’ than girls in secondary school, according to a new study.
The finding is the result of a study into UK school children’s real-life social networks by The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in partnership with the University of Cambridge.
The researchers found boys were more likely to form “tight-knit bands” of friends than girls and also to stick with their selected group throughout the school year. In comparison, girls’ friendships were more variable.
The study’s focus was actually on infectious diseases - the researchers examined children’s social networks within different schools in order to better understand how outbreaks of infectious diseases like flu and measles may spread. But in the process, they dispelled some gender stereotypes about male and female friendships.
A total of 460 year 7 pupils across four UK secondary schools completed surveys about their social circles over a five-month period. In total, pupils completed 1,254 surveys. In most cases children formed well-defined friendship groups and popularity seemed to be consistent over the five-month period, with pupils with lots of friends at the start of the study also having a large social network at the end of the study.
In all schools, the characteristics of social networks were found to be mainly dependent on gender and to a lesser extent on other factors, such as school class. In particular, males tended to cluster together more in each mixed-sex school.
Commenting on the findings Dr Adam Kucharski, lead author at LSHTM, said: “Showing boys are potentially more cliquey than girls, perhaps going against gender stereotypes, and that popular children remain popular over time, is an interesting social insight, but for mathematical modellers this type of information is also extremely valuable.
“Understanding age-specific social mixing patterns is vital for studying outbreaks of infectious diseases like flu and measles which can spread rapidly, particularly among children. It’s useful to find that mixing patterns are fairly consistent, as this suggests it will be easier to analyse social interactions among children than was previously thought. It also shows the value of working directly with schools to study these questions.”