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Thick as thieves: Homophily and trust among deviants


  • Jennifer Flashman

    (University of Notre Dame, USA)

  • Diego Gambetta

    (European University Institute, Italy; University of Oxford, UK)


Individuals who engage in deviant behaviors are more likely to be friends with other deviants compared to non-deviants. This pattern has been observed across different types of deviant activities and among different age groups. In question, however, is the mechanism that underlies this pattern. In this article we develop and test a new theory to explain homophily among deviants. Deviance makes one vulnerable to the risk of being caught and sanctioned. This vulnerability imposes a stringent constraint on deviants’ choice of friends. Following Thomas Schelling, we conjecture that a way to establish trust consists of making oneself “blackmailable†by disclosing compromising information on one’s misdeeds, or sharing compromising secrets (SCS). If two individuals share their illicit behaviors with one another, both are made vulnerable and a friendship can be established. We propose a series of hypotheses derived from SCS comparing levels of homophily in deviant and non-deviant behaviors. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health we estimate adolescents’ preferences for deviant and non-deviant friends, within and across types of activities, and across different social contexts. Together, these tests allow us to distinguish between the theory we develop, SCS, and alternatives.

Suggested Citation

  • Jennifer Flashman & Diego Gambetta, 2014. "Thick as thieves: Homophily and trust among deviants," Rationality and Society, , vol. 26(1), pages 3-45, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:ratsoc:v:26:y:2014:i:1:p:3-45

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    Adolescence; deviance; friendship; homophily; trust;


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