The Reason Why Schools Have Cliques

If you've seen the movie Mean Girls, you may be familiar with cliques in the cafeteria. While the distinct difference between jocks, nerds, or band geeks may seem extreme in that film, there definitely are cliques in high schools, at least to some extent. A new study from the American Sociological Association takes a look at why some schools have more cliques or social hierarchies compared to others.

Research found that the way a school is organized is a major factor in determining its social setting. They referred to this as a school's "network ecology." In other words, when schools provide more choices for students — in terms of electives, more students, more freedom to choose their seats — there is more likely to be a social hierarchy and segregation among student groups. The study showed that schools that were smaller and didn't have as many options (in the areas listed above) were less likely to be segregated, and less students were excluded.

The study's lead author, Daniel A. McFarland, explains:

Educators often suspect that the social world of adolescents is beyond their reach and out of their control, but that's not really so. They have leverage, because the schools are indirectly shaping conditions in these societies.

This study also found that schools with a strong focus on academics mostly had friendships that were based on traits like shared activities or similar intellectual interests.

To learn more about the influence of friendship and cliques, be sure to check out the "Friendfluence!" story from the October issue of Choices! Choices is a teen health, well-being, and life skills magazine for middle and high school students.