Summary of Quality of Friendships Quantitative Data

Although gender differences are often detected in samples of European American and Latino adolescents, such gender differences are rarely indicated among African American (DuBois & Hirsch, 1990; Rosenbloom, 20042; Way & Chen, 2000) or Asian American youth (Way & Chen, 2000). One possible explanation for the lack of gender differences among African American youth may be that African American boys experience more supportive friendships than both European American or Latino boys and thus mean level differences in friendship support among African American boys and girls are not significant. This interpretation is corroborated by recent survey-based research showing that although African American and White girls report similar levels of friendship quality, African American boys report having more intimate close friendship than White and/or Latino adolescent boys (DuBois & Hirsch, 1990; Jones et al., 1994).

Figure 17.2 Fitted linear growth curves for closest same-sex friendship quality a function of gender.

Figure 17.2 Fitted linear growth curves for closest same-sex friendship quality a function of gender.

With regard to gender differences, our research indicates that boys tend to experience sharper improvements over time than girls in the perceived quality of closest friendships. Although boys begin high school reporting lower levels of support in their closest friendships than girls, by their latter years of high school, boys and girls report comparable mean levels of support from their closest friends (see Figure 17.2). Previous research has also shown gender differences in perceptions of friendship support to be more pronounced among young adolescents than older adolescents (Azmi-tia et al., 1998). Boys may start high school being particularly wary of intimate or close friendships with other boys due to heightened fears of being perceived as gay (see McAnGhaill, 1996; Raymond, 1994). Scholars have noted the extent to which early adolescents, in particular, are consumed with concerns about sexuality and the way others perceive them (Chu, 2004; Tolman, 2002). This period of development may be particularly difficult for boys because the homophobic culture in which they develop implicitly and explicitly discourages intimate, male friendships (Chu, 2004; Raymond, 1994). Yet as boys become more secure in their own identities and involved in romantic relationships, they may become more willing and interested in engaging in intimate, male friendships (Azmitia et al., 1996). Gender differences in rates of improvements in perceived friendship quality may also be due to the differing socialization practices of boys and girls. The socialization of girls often emphasizes relational skills and interpersonal understanding (see Gilligan, 1982), while the socialization of boys often emphasizes autonomy and individuation (Kimmel, 2004). Thus, girls may acquire the necessary interpersonal and cognitive skills needed for close and supportive friendship at an earlier age than boys. Additional research is needed to understand the reasons for such gender differences in trajectories of friendship quality.

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