Structures, Experiences, and Perceptions of Undergraduate Students’ Networks: A Mixed Methods Study

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Whitney DeCamp

Second Advisor

Dr. Angie Moe

Third Advisor

Dr. R. Kirk Mauldin


Networks, social capital, relational maintenance, college relationships, friends-with-benefit relationships

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Abstract Only

Restricted to Campus until



This study examines the network sizes and social capital that undergraduate students form and accumulate during college, in addition to the maintenance behaviors, commitment, and trust, or relational elements, that occur in the friendships, casual sex, friends-with-benefits, and romantic relationships that students create and experience. Although prior studies have focused on the definitions of sexual relationships and other literature has examined the effects of network size and social capital, few studies have examined how different relationship statuses affect the width and depth of networks. The concepts of social capital and weak ties as well as social exchange and network exchange theories assist in understanding the relationships that college students encounter and experience. The current study assists network and relational scholarship by utilizing an online mixed-methods survey distributed to undergraduate students at a large Midwestern university. Hypotheses regarding the size of undergraduate networks, the amount of social capital reaped from networks, in addition to the relational elements evinced to continue a friendship, romantic relationship, casual sex or friends-with-benefit-relationship are tested through bivariate and equivalence tests and through a series of regression analyses. In this study, classes and housing environments comprised the largest aspects of student networks. Additional findings include that students involved in casual sex or friends-with-benefits had the largest networks and accrued greater social capital than students in romantic relationships.

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