Stability of the personal relationship networks in a longitudinal study of middle school students


The personal network of relationships is structured in circles of friendships, that go from the most intense relationships to the least intense ones. While this is a well established result, little is known about the stability of those circles and their evolution in time. To shed light on this issue, we study the temporal evolution of friendships among teenagers during two consecutive academic years by means of a survey administered on five occasions. We show that the first two circles, best friends and friends, can be clearly observed in the survey but also that being in one or the other leads to more or less stable relationships. We find that being in the same class is one of the key drivers of friendship evolution. We also observe an almost constant degree of reciprocity in the relationships, around 60%, a percentage influenced both by being in the same class and by gender homophily. Not only do our results confirm the mounting evidence supporting the circle structure of human social networks, but they also show that these structures persist in time despite the turnover of individual relationships—a fact that may prove particularly useful for understanding the social environment in middle schools.

Keywords: Friendships, Network, Stability