Between friends: Class, gender, and friendship

Karen Elizabeth Walker, University of Pennsylvania


Using data collected in 52 in-depth interviews with working- and middle-class men and women my dissertation compares the meanings, definitions, and experiences of friendship by gender and class. Specific opportunities and obligations of working- and middle-class men and women influenced the organization of friendship. How often friends saw each other, what they did, what they talked about, and where they saw each other all varied by class and gender. Not only did class and gender organize friendship, they also shaped expectations about friendship in significant ways. Working-class respondents emphasized material and emotional interdependence in friendship; middle-class respondents emphasized shared leisure and emotional support. As a result, potential areas of strain differed. Working-class men and women exhibited more open conflict within friendships. Middle-class men and women were sometimes isolated and lonely. People of various genders and classes frequently used similar words to talk about friendship, but further exploration of what they meant revealed that the similarities in words obscured vastly different meanings about friendship. Gender and class, however, did not exert the same degree or kind of influence on friendship organization and expectations. Gender acted as an ideological construction across all social domains and had a powerful effect on respondents' interpretations of their friendships. Class did not. Broadly shared ideologies of masculinity and femininity influenced individuals' depictions of their friendships in interviews. Men's and women's reported friendship behaviors, however, were more similar than they thought they were. The constraints of being either working or middle class sometimes shaped behavior in ways that contradicted the prescriptions of gender ideologies. In contrast to gender, class-based experiences influenced friendship behaviors, but men and women did not express class-based ideologies about friendship.

Subject Area

Sociology|Womens studies|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Walker, Karen Elizabeth, "Between friends: Class, gender, and friendship" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9413924.