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Abstract

People are connected. Some of the connections—like friendship or marriage—are easy to see, and some are less obvious. For instance, think of an abstract similarity based on an idea of identity, like ethnicity or gender; these too are connections between people. It is the collection of these relationships that define a person in their social context. A set of individuals connected through chosen relationships defines a social network.

Social network analysis may be understood to deal with questions about social structure and individual or group behavior from the perspective of the relations between actors. Although it deals with people and can be considered a branch of sociology, the methods of social network analysis are highly mathematical. Fortunately, because the abstractions involved in the mathematical methods represent familiar constructs of our experience—people and their connections—they can be discussed in familiar terms. What follows is an effort to give an appreciation of this practice to the non-mathematical reader.

Social networks help to clarify the discussion of important social phenomena by allowing quantitative techniques to approach what is normally a qualitative domain of discourse. In particular, the extent to which educational attainment is socially closed within status groups can be examined by constructing a certain social network, which will be discussed here. This network was derived from a subset of the 2010 General Social Survey (GSS) dataset for the respondent variables described in table 1, restricted to respondents whose ages ranged from 30 to 40. Before treating the analysis itself, it will be necessary to familiarize the reader with certain relevant ideas.

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