Objectives: Smoking contributes to socio-economic health inequalities; but it is unclear how smoking inequalities emerge at a young age. So far, little attention has been paid to the role of friendship ties. We hypothesised that the combination of peer exposure and friendship social homophily may contribute to socio-economic inequalities in smoking at school. Methods: In 2013, a social network survey was carried out in 50 schools in six medium-size European cities (Namur, Tampere, Hanover, Latina, Amersfoort, and Coimbra). Adolescents in grades corresponding to the 14-to-16 age group were recruited (n = 11.015, participation rate = 79.4 %). We modelled adolescents’ smoking behaviour as a function of socio-economic background, and analysed the mediating role of social homophily and peer exposure. Results: Lower socio-economic groups were more likely to smoke and were more frequently exposed to smoking by their close and distant friends, compared with adolescents of higher SES. The smoking risk of the lowest socio-economic group decreased after controlling for friends smoking and social homophily. Conclusions: Smoking socio-economic inequalities amongst adolescents are driven by friendship networks.
- Social network
- Socio-economic inequalities