Received: 19 November 2017 Revised: 19 June 2018 Accepted: 6 August 2018
Birds of a feather: Is matching based on shared
interests and characteristics associated with
longer youth mentoring relationships?
Elizabeth B. Raposa1Adar Ben-Eliyahu2Lauren E.W. Olsho3
1College of William and Mary
2University of Haifa
3Abt Associates, Inc
4University of Massachusetts, Boston
We acknowledge funding from the MacArthur
Foundation Research Network on Connected
Learning and funding and support from MENTOR:
The National Mentoring Partnership.
Youth mentoring practitioners and researchers have shown a
growing interest in determining the ways in which mentor–youth
matching practices might influence the duration and effectiveness
of mentoring relationships. The current project tested whether
mentor–youth similarities at baseline, in terms of demographic
variables and interests in certain activities (e.g., sports, art), pre-
dicted a longer duration of mentoring relationships. Analyses used
baseline and follow-up data from over 9,000 youth who participated
in community-based mentoring programs in the northeastern
United States, as well as their volunteer mentors. Racial and ethnic
similarity between mentor and youth was predictive of longer match
duration. Moreover, a shared dislike of activities was associated with
longer matches than either shared interests or discordant interests
in activities. Findings have important implications for determining
the ways in which mentor–youth matching practices influence the
length and effectiveness of mentoring relationships.
Youth mentoring programs pair youth with volunteer mentors who are trained to provide support and guidance, with
the aim of promoting positive youth development. In the United States alone, approximately2.5 million volunteer men-
tors are involved in youths’ lives each year (Raposa, Dietz, & Rhodes, 2017). Anecdotal reports of volunteer mentors’
protective influence on youth development are corroborated by a growing body of research, which has provided sup-
port for their modest but positive contributions across a range of populations, settings, and outcomes (e.g., DuBois,
Holloway, Valentine, & Cooper, 2002; Tolan, Henry, Schoeny, Lovegrove, & Nichols, 2014; Wheeler, Keller, & DuBois,
At the same time, this body of research has revealed considerable room for improvement in both the strength and
the consistency of program impacts (DuBois, Holloway, et al., 2002; Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, & DuBois, 2008). For exam-
ple, a recent meta-analysis of 73 evaluations of youth mentoring programs found evidence of only small benefits, on
average, for participating youth on measures of emotional, behavioral, and educational functioning (DuBois, Portillo,
Rhodes, Silverthorn, & Valentine, 2011). Small effectsizes might be due, at least in part, to inconsistency in the strength
J. Community Psychol. 2018;1–13. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/jcop c
2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 1
2RAPOSA ET AL.
and length of assigned mentoring relationships. Studies suggest that less than half of formal mentoring relationships
last even a full year, and that early match closures result in no benefit or even negative effects on youth outcomes
(Grossman & Rhodes, 2002; Grossman, Chan, Schwartz, & Rhodes, 2012). As a result, it is crucial to explore program
factors that enhance the duration and potential impact of youth mentoring interventions.
One essential program factor involves how to best match mentors to youth to promote a close and lasting rela-
tionship for both individuals, and in turn maximize the benefits of mentoring. A similar question of how to best match
two individuals in a relationship has long interested researchers across diverse disciplines, including those studying
the outcomes of romantic, parent–child, teacher–student, employer–employee, and therapist–patient relationships.
Across these diverse types of relationships, similarity is thought to be a key predictor of attraction, closeness, and
relationship longevity (Byrne, 1971). Interacting with a similar other is hypothesized to confirm one's own beliefs and
attitudes about the world while reducing sources of conflict and uncertainty within a relationship (Byrne, 1971; Fehr,
2001). These aspects of the relationship are experienced as comforting and inherently reinforcing, thereby leading to
stronger and longer lasting relationships (Byrne, 1971; Fehr, 2001).
Indeed, a large body of evidence points to perceived similarity as an important factor for enhancing feelings of close-
ness in interactions with others, and in turn promoting satisfying and stable relationships (Burleson & Samter, 1996;
Gehlbach et al., 2016; Gonzaga, Campos, & Bradbury, 2007; Hejmanowski, 2000; Lucas et al., 2004; Miller, Downs, &
Prentice, 1998). The level of similarity in a particular relationship has been assessed using a wide variety of indices,
including concordance between two people on constructs such as personality, intelligence, political and religious atti-
tudes, socioeconomic background, and values or interests.
Yet studies testing the link between similarity and relationship satisfaction often struggle to discern whether sim-
ilarity actually precedes closeness in relationships. Because most relationships (e.g., dating relationships, family rela-
tionships) arise organically, it is impossible to assess factors such as personality traits, values, or interests prior to the
initiation of the relationship. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that feelings of relationship satisfaction can artifi-
cially inflate perceptions of similarity in a relationship (Morry, 2005). That is, perceived similarity might not be a pre-
requisite for making a successful and long-lasting match, but might emerge over time as two people develop closeness
within a satisfying relationship.
In many ways, mentoring relationships thus serve as a rare opportunity to test the effects of similarity along various
domains on relationship outcomes. Formal mentoring relationships have a structured beginning, allowing for assess-
ment of interests, values, and demographic characteristics prior to any interaction between mentor and youth.Despite
this fact, little research has formally evaluated the impact of matching practices on mentoring relationship satisfaction
and duration. Historically, mentoring programs have tended to rely on convenience methods for assigning matches,
based on the availability and location of mentors, or on the stated preferences of mentor or youth. When similarity
is accounted for, it has typically focused on demographic variables such as gender, race, or ethnicity , or checklists of
hobbies, such as sports, video games, and art. For example, a handful of studies haveexamined the practice of matching
based on mentor and youth demographic characteristics, including gender and race and ethnicity, with mixed results
(e.g., Blake-Beard, Bayne, Crosby, & Muller,2011; Ensher & Murphy, 1997).
Some studies have shown that similarity between mentor and youth on these characteristics predicts better rela-
tionship quality (Ensher & Murphy,1997) and superior youth academic outcomes (Campbell & Campbell, 2007; Santos,
Silvia, & Reigada, 2002), and these findings tend to be consistent with theoretical models that posit shared culture as
a key facet of similarity and attraction within relationships (Sanchez & Colon, 2005). However, several other studies
have shown no impact of matching on demographic variables (Herrera, Sipe, McClanahan, Arbreton, & Pepper, 2000;
Jucovy, 2002; Kanchewa, Rhodes, Schwartz, & Olsho, 2014; Morrow & Styles, 1995). Matching youth and their men-
tors based on endorsement of similar hobbies and activities has generally been overlooked in the research literature.
However, one meta-analysis found that the impact of youth mentoring was larger when programs indicated that they
matched mentors with youth on the basis of shared interests (DuBois et al., 2011).
The current project sought to expand on these findings by testing whether mentor–youth similarities at baseline
predicted longer-lasting mentoring relationships in a large, diverse sample of youth and their mentors. In particular,
demographic variables, including race/ethnicity and gender, as well as mentor and youth interests, were assessed prior
RAPOSA ET AL.3
TAB LE 1 Racial/ethnic characteristics of mentors and youth (N=9,803)
African American 32.6% 9.5%
Asian 3.9% 6.3%
White 27.4% 75.5%
Latino/Hispanic 21.4% 3.7%
Multiracial 9.9% 2.2%
Native American 0.1% 0.1%
Pacific Islander 0.1% 0.2%
Other 4.7% 2.5%
to matching, and these variables were used to create indices of similarity for over 9,000 matches in community-based
Big Brothers Big Sisters programs. Matches were then followed for the duration of the relationship or until the end
of the observation window, up to 12.5 years. Relationship length and reasons for match closure were assessed as out-
1.1 Participants and procedure
Participants were mentors and youth who were participating in Big Brothers community-based agencies in the
northeastern United States. Data were collected from a total of 9,821 matches over the course of 13 years. Four
matches were dropped from the sample because their files were missing data on the mentor's gender, and 14 matches
were deleted because their files were missing data on mentor or youth race/ethnicity. The final analytic sample
therefore included 9,803 mentor–youth pairs. Because participating programs exclusively served male youth dur-
ing the data collection period, all youth were male, as were most mentors (91.5%). Youth were aged 6–18 years
(mean [M] =10.6 years, standard deviation [SD]=2.2 years), and mentors were aged 16–79 years (M=29.1 years,
SD =9.1 years)1. Youth and mentors in the sample identified with a diverse set of racial and ethnic backgrounds (see
All mentors and parents of youth provided informed consent during enrollment in the mentoring program. As a
part of the standard program intake process, all mentors and parents of youth provided basic demographic informa-
tion, and all mentors and youth completed a checklist of activities they would be interested in participating in during
the match. Each match was followed until its closure, and the reason for closure was noted by mentoring program
1.2.1 Demographic characteristics
Mentor and youth race/ethnicity and gender were obtained during the intake interview. Reported race/ethnicity cate-
gories included European American, African American, Asian American, Latino/Hispanic, multiracial, Native American,
Pacific Islander, and other. These data were used to assign dichotomous codes that indicated whether the mentor and
youth in a particular pair were matched on each of the characteristics.
1Analyses were also run using only the sample of adult mentors older than 18; however, results did not substantivelydiffer when the 70 matches for which
mentors were below age 18 years were excludedfrom the sample. Thus, only models using the full sample are presented here.
4RAPOSA ET AL.
At intake, mentors and youth were presented with a list of 21 activities that they “might enjoy and/or be interested
in engaging in during mentoring activities.” For each activity, mentors and youth provided a dichotomous response
to indicate liking or disliking the activity. The activities list was developed for use within this mentoring program, and
included items such as playing board games, computer-based activities, making or listening to music, outdoor activities,
and playing sports. If both mentor and youth indicated interest on a particular activity, the match was coded as having
a shared interest, and if the mentor and youth both indicated not liking a particular activity, the match was coded as
having shared disinterest. For each match, cumulative“shared interest” and “shared disinterest” scores were calculated
by summing across all activities. In addition, cumulative scores were created for two types of discordant interests:
mentor interests not shared by the youth, and youth interests not shared by the mentor.
1.2.3 Match length
The length of the mentoring relationship was calculated as months from the beginning of the mentoring relationship
until the match close date. For matches that were still open as of the end of the observation window, the match length
was right-censored at that date.
1.2.4 Reason for closure
In addition to match length, the primary reason for match closure was also assessed by mentoring program staff after
having conversations with all involvedparties (i.e., parents of youth, youth, and mentor). A match was determined to be
successfully completed by staff if the match met consistently for over a year, and came to a nonconflictual agreement
about ending the relationship. If the match was not successfully completed, then an effort was made to reach a consen-
sus about a true reason for closure across all involved parties. For example, if program staff were aware that a mentor
had been struggling to feel connected with his mentee for months, but then reported that he had to close the match
because of a changing work schedule, staff would make an effort to engage in further conversations with the mentor,
parent, and youth to assess the true reason for closure.
A primary reason for match closure, and up to one secondary reason, were then coded by staff into 12 closure cat-
egories, including reasons such as successful completion of the match, lack of time or scheduling difficulties, conflict
between mentor and youth, behavioral issues, program rule violations, and youth incarceration. Only the primary rea-
sons for match closure were included in current analyses.
Given the substantial variability in youth age within the present sample, this variable was included as a covariate in all
analyses. In addition, although religious affiliation is not typically included in evaluations of mentor–youth matching
processes, significant differences in the distribution of mentor and youth religious beliefs were noted in the current
sample (for Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, p<.001). As a result, matching on religious affiliation was included as a covariate
in all analyses examining matching on demographic characteristics. There was substantial missing data for the religious
affiliation item, with full information for approximately 36% of the analytic sample. Rather than excludingmatches with
missing religion data from the sample, matches with missing data on religion were included as a separate category in
regression analyses. That is, if either the mentor or youth was missing religion data, then this was coded as a separate
“missing” category for religious affiliation.
1.3 Analytic procedures
To test whether of mentor–youth matching on demographics and shared interests influences the length of the relation-
ship and reasons for match closure, multivariate Cox proportional hazard models (Breslow, 1975; Hosmer, Lemeshow,
& May, 2008) were run. Results are reported as hazard ratios, which can be interpreted as the effect of the match
characteristic on the likelihood that a match will end on any given day. As an aid for judging the effect size of these
RAPOSA ET AL.5
FIGURE 1 The cumulative proportion of closed matches, depicting length of matches for the sample
hazard ratios, one set of guidelines specifies small, medium, and large hazard ratios as approximately 1.3, 1.9, and 2.8,
respectively (Azuero, 2016). In addition, two sets of logistic regression analyses were run to test whether mentor–
youth matching on demographics and shared interests predicted early terminations (i.e., relationships of one year or
less) and particularly long relationships (i.e., match length greater than three years). All models were stratified on the
calendar months for the match start and end dates to account for any seasonal trends in the probability of match
2.1 Descriptive statistics
The final dataset included 8,464 closed matches and 1,157 matches that were still active. The averagematch length was
25.2 months (SD =24.4). The Kaplan-Meier curve representing the cumulative proportion of closed matches over time
is presented in Figure 1 (Kaplan & Meier, 1958). Approximately 35% of matches ended within 1 year, about 60% within
2 years, and about 87% within 5 years. Approximately 25% of matches lasted longer than 3 years, and 13% longer than
5 years. Exploration of match start and end dates using histograms suggested that matches were least likely to start
during the summer months (i.e., July and August) and most likely to end at the start of the summer (i.e., June).
The racial distribution was significantly different for mentors versus youth (see Table 1; for Kolmogorov-Smirnov
test, p<.001), with substantially more youth from minority racial backgrounds. Only 37% of matches were between
mentors and youth of the same race and ethnicity. In contrast, most of the sample (92%) was matched on gender, due
largely to matching practices within the participating Big Brothers programs, as well as the limited variability in men-
tor and youth gender within this sample. Table 2 displays the frequency of agreement between mentors and youth
about interest in specific activities. The four interests shared most commonly by mentor and youth were playing sports,
outdoor activities, movies/concerts, and attending sports events. The four least shared interests were sewing, poetry,
fashion, and mechanical hobbies.
Mentors and youth who were matched on race and ethnicity tended to report fewer shared interests (r=−.10,
p<.05), fewer mentor interests not shared by the youth (r=−.09, p<.05), fewer youth interests not shared by the
mentor (r=−.06, p<.05), and more shared dislikes (r=.13, p<.05). Mentors and youth who were matched on gender
showed a similar pattern of results with respect to interests, with fewer shared interests (r=−.24, p<.05), fewer
mentor interests not shared by the youth (r=−.22, p<.05), fewer youth interests not shared by the mentor (r=−.07,
p<.05), but more shared dislikes (r=.28, p<.05).
6RAPOSA ET AL.
TAB LE 2 Mentor and youth interests as reported at intake interview (N=9,803)
Playing sports 3,899 39.8 710 7.2 1,846 18.8 3,348 34.2
Outdoor activities 3,749 38.2 991 10.1 1,567 16.0 3,496 35.7
Movies/concerts 3,535 36.1 1286 13.1 1,393 14.2 3,589 36.6
Attending sporting events 3,332 34.0 1,358 13.9 1,422 14.5 3,691 37.7
Video games 2,563 26.2 778 7.9 2,473 25.2 3,989 40.7
Museums 2,103 21.5 1,981 20.2 1,118 11.4 4,601 46.9
Board games 1,961 20.0 2,016 20.6 1,052 10.7 4,774 48.7
Watching TV/videos 1,694 17.3 2,140 21.8 1,012 10.3 4,957 50.6
Computers 1,415 14.4 1,629 16.6 1,554 15.9 5,205 53.1
Reading 941 9.6 2,643 27.0 615 6.3 5,604 57.2
Drawing/painting 932 9.5 1,009 10.3 1,772 18.1 6,090 62.1
Music/musical instruments 777 7.9 1,080 11.0 1,769 18.1 6,177 63.0
Arts/crafts 693 7.1 1,396 14.2 880 9.0 6,834 69.7
Attending cultural events 572 5.8 2,780 28.4 530 5.4 5,921 60.4
Shopping 364 3.7 1,618 16.5 242 2.5 7,579 77.3
Dancing 222 2.3 738 7.5 470 4.8 8,373 85.4
Cooking 180 1.8 1,898 19.4 166 1.7 7,559 77.1
Mechanical 147 1.5 937 9.6 606 6.2 8,113 82.8
Fashion 119 1.2 590 6.0 111 1.1 8,983 91.6
Poetry 64 0.7 1,083 11.1 177 1.8 8,479 86.5
Sewing 5 0.1 261 2.7 22 0.2 9,515 97.1
The most commonly cited reasons for ending a match were the mentor or youth moving (24.0%), mentor or mentee
lost interest (22.5%), and lack of time for mentoring (16.7%). Other reported reasons are as follows: successful com-
pletion of the relationship (13.0%), youth graduating (5.8%), conflict (5.5%), the mentoring relationship did not meet
expectations (1.2%), the mentor or youth moved to a new relationship with a different match (1.2%), problems with the
volunteer mentor (1.1%), youth behavioral issues (0.8%), violation of program rules by mentor or youth (0.5%), mentor
or youth went to jail (0.2%), and other (7.5%).
2.2 Matching as a Predictor of Match Length
Analyses first examined mentor–youth concordance on race/ethnicity, gender, and activity interests as simultaneous
predictors of match duration, with match on religious affiliation and youth age included as covariates. The proportional
hazards assumption of fixed hazard ratios over time was satisfied for all covariates in our multivariate model when
adjusting for other factors. Same race and ethnicity matches were associated with longer match durations (i.e., lower
risk of match termination on any given day; hazard ratio[ HR] =0.92, p<.001). Same-gender match was not a significant
predictor of match length (HR =0.95, p=.26); however, as noted above, there was very little variability in mentor and
youth gender within the current sample, and this particular finding should therefore be interpreted with caution.
With respect to mentor and youth interests, hazard ratios revealed that, contrary to hypotheses, shared disinterest
was more protective against match termination than shared or discordant interests. That is, having a greater number of
mutual dislikes between mentor and youth predicted longer relationships relative to havinga greater number of shared
interests (HR =1.04, p<.001), a greater number of mentor interests not shared by the youth (HR =1.04, p<.001),
RAPOSA ET AL.7
or a greater number of youth interests not shared by the mentor (HR =1.07, p<.001). In addition, having a greater
number of youth interests not shared by the mentor predicted substantially shorter matches relative to both mentor–
youth pairs with greater shared interests (p<.001) and more mentor interests not shared by youth (p<.001). That
is, having a greater number of youth interests that were not endorsed by mentors was associated with the greatest
risk for earlier match termination. No differences in match length were observed when comparing a greater number of
shared interests to a greater number of mentor interests not shared by the youth (p=.98).
We then ran a set of exploratory analyses to examine whether shared interest (or disinterest) in specific types
of activities, such as sports or outdoor activities, was particularly important for mentoring match duration (see
Supplementary Table 1). In general, the directions of effects for activity-specific results were quite similar to the results
for the cumulative assessment of shared interest, though most activity-specific hazard ratios were not statistically sig-
nificant.2For example, having a shared disinterest in playing sports was protective against earlier termination relative
to having a shared interest in playing sports (HR =1.39, p<.001) and having a discordance between mentor and youth
in interest in sports (HR =1.35, p<.001; HR =1.49, p<.001).
2.3 Matching as a predictor of early terminations and longer relationships
Matching on race/ethnicity (odds ratio [OR] =.94, p=.15) and gender (OR =1.03, p=.75) did not predict early termi-
nations (i.e., matches ending earlier than the one-year expectation set by Big Brothers Big Sisters programs). However,
matching on race/ethnicity (OR =1.21, p<.001) predicted especially long matches, or matches lasting longer than
three years. Matching based on gender did not predict especially long matches (OR =1.08, p=.53).
Shared disinterest again appeared to be protective when looking at dichotomous measures of particularly short
or long matches. Compared to a greater number of shared dislikes between mentor and youth, having more shared
interests (OR =1.03, p<.001), having more mentor interests not shared by the youth (OR =1.03, p<.001), and having
more youth interests not shared by the mentor (OR =1.10, p<.001) all predicted greater likelihood of an early match
closure. Similarly, having more shared interests (OR =0.92, p<.001), having more mentor interests not shared by
the youth (OR =0.92, p<.001), and having more youth interests not shared by the mentor (OR =0.88, p<.001) all
predicted a lower likelihood of having a match longer than three years, relative to shared dislikes among the mentor
2.4 Matching as a predictor for reasons for match termination
Cox proportional hazard specifications were also used to model whether matching on demographics and interests was
related to specific reasons for match termination (see Table 3). The match closure reason “youth incarceration” was
too rare to produce estimates in analyses, so results for that model are not included here. When the most common
reasons for match termination were examined (mentor or youth move, loss of interest, lack of time, successful match
completion, youth graduation, and conflict in the match) several findings emerged. Same-race and ethnicity matches
had a lower risk of match termination because the mentor or youth moved away or loss of interest. However, matching
on race/ethnicity predicted a higher risk of match termination because of conflict. Tentative findings regarding gender
matching show that same-gender matches were more likely to end due to a mentor or youth moving away or to a loss
of interest. In contrast, same-gender matches were less likely to end due to a lack of time for mentoring and were
marginally less likely to end due to youth graduation or a mentor–youth conflict.
Consistent with the models predicting match length, greater concordance between mentor and youth disliking
certain activities reduced the probability of match termination for most commonly cited reasons (e.g., a move, losing
interest, lack of time, graduation). Moreover, match closure as a result of a successful completion of the mentoring
relationship was more common in matches with a greater number of shared dislikes, relative to matches with more
shared or discordant interests.
2The one exception is in the finding that shared interest by both mentor and youth in attending sporting eventsis associated with lower risk of termination
compared to both not being interested in attending sporting events.
8RAPOSA ET AL.
TAB LE 3 Estimated hazard ratios for match length by reason for closure
Predictors Moved Lost interest Time Complete Graduated Conflict Expect
Same gender 1.28 1.27 0.73 0.93 0.67 0.75 0.63 <0.001 0.72 0.80 <0.001
(.007) (.004) (<.001) (.756) (.070) (.069) (.176) (>.99) (.404) (.601) (>.99)
Same race and ethnicity 0.73 0.90 0.95 1.06 0.84 1.25 1.37 2.01 1.18 1.09 1.53
(<.001) (0.035) (.383) (.372) (.124) (.022) (.121) (.001) (.444) (.738) (.167)
Same religion 0.86 0.96 0.84 1.12 0.44 0.89 0.61 0.57 0.86 1.01 0.88
(.044) (.606) (.043) (.710) (<.001) (.501) (.179) (.3337) (.721) (.992) (.824)
Missing data on religion 0.83 0.88 0.76 1.62 0.55 1.18 0.63 1.06 0.91 1.11 1.43
(.003) (.043) (<.001) (.040) (.001) (0.227) (.100) (.886) (.775) (.777) (.429)
Youth agea0.96 1.05 1.00 1.03 – 0.99 1.02 0.96 0.96 1.05 –
(.001) (<.001) (.795) (<.001) –(.499) (.395) (.385) (.459) (.051) –
Number of shared
Number of mentor
interests not shared by
Number of youth
interests not shared by
Note. For each predictor and outcome, pvalues are listed in parentheses under the hazard ratios.
aYouth age was excluded as a covariate from “graduated” and “rule violation” models because of collinearity
RAPOSA ET AL.9
Youth mentoring practitioners and researchers have shown a growing interest in determining the ways in which
mentor–youth matching practices influence the duration and effectiveness of mentoring relationships. Using a large
sample of community-based mentoring relationships, current analyses revealed a range of mentor and youth demo-
graphic and baseline interest variables that were associated with match duration and reason for closure. Findings sug-
gest that racial and ethnic similarity is generally predictive of a longer match length. Moreover, contrary to expecta-
tions, a shared dislike of activities was associated with longer matches than either shared interests or discordant inter-
ests in activities. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine associations between baseline match characteris-
tics and both match length and reasons for match closure.
With regard to demographic characteristics, analyses suggested that same race/ethnicity matches tended to last
longer than different race/ethnicity matches, with shared race/ethnicity increasing the likelihood of having a match
last longer than 3 years. At termination, same-race matches were less likely than different-race matches to report that
the match had closed because of the mentor or youth moving away or a loss of mentor or youth interest. However,
matching on race and ethnicity predicted a higher risk of relationship closure because of conflict within the match.
In past studies on youth, matching on race and/or ethnicity has shown inconsistent associations with mentoring
length and termination (Herrera et al., 2000). Unfortunately, the majority of studies of these variables, like our study,
have relied on naturalistic observation of mentoring outcomes, rather than a randomization procedure that would
allow one to draw causal inferences about race and ethnicity matching and youth outcomes. Nevertheless, one excep-
tion to this trend found that mentors and youth randomized to same-race pairs in a work-related mentoring program
had stronger mentoring relationships, marked by greater perceived career support and higher levels of liking for one
another (Ensher & Murphy, 1997).
Likewise, findings from qualitative research suggest that parents, youth, and mentors tend to show a preference
for same-race or ethnicity matches, with the expectation that shared culture will improve the strength of the relation-
ship (Sanchez & Colon, 2005). At the same time, studies of informal mentoring relationships have shown that naturally
occurring relationships with same-race mentors can have a positive influence on racial identity for African American
youth, and these shifts in racial identity are in turn associated with improved academic outcomes (Hurd, Sanchez, Zim-
merman, & Caldwell, 2012). Such findings, coupled with the length results of this study, suggest that pairing minority
youth with a same-race mentor could be similarly helpful in formal mentoring programs.
Yet same-race pairs are often difficult to assign within the constraints of formal mentoring programs, where most
youth referrals tend to be male minority youth, whereas the majority of volunteers are White female adults (Raposa
et al., 2017). Indeed, in the current sample, only 37% of the matches were between mentors and youth of the same
race/ethnicity. It is also important to note that almost all of the matches in the current sample were same-gender, and
current findings therefore largely suggest that same-race, same-gender pairs tend to be more successful than different-
race, same-gender pairs. As a result, these findings about matching on race and ethnicity might not generalize to sam-
ples that involve cross-gender matches (e.g., female mentors matched with male youth).
It is interesting that the same-race matches tended to report match closure because of logistical reasons (e.g., a men-
tor or youth moving away) less often, but that these matches also tended to report match closure because of experienc-
ing conflict more often. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the ways in which mentor and youth char-
acteristics map onto reasons for match closure, and additional rigorous research in this area is needed. There are many
possible reasons why matching on race and ethnicity could lead to fewer logistical challenges. Forexample, racial segre-
gation of neighborhoods and schools within the United States could mean that mentors of youth with shared racial and
ethnic backgrounds travel shorter distances to mentor, or are more familiar with the schools, neighborhoods, and/or
transportation systems of their mentees. It is less clear why matching on race and ethnicity would be associated with a
greater likelihood of closure because of conflict. It is possible that same-race pairs are marked by less cultural mistrust
(Sanchez & Colon, 2005), and that these pairs are therefore more likely to confront one another about concerns or dis-
satisfaction within the relationship, leading to greater conflict. Alternatively, this finding could be an artifact of a lack
of randomization, such that youth assigned to same-race mentors differed systematically in some way at baseline from
10 RAPOSA ET AL.
youth assigned to mentors of a different race (e.g., greater stress exposure, more baseline behavioral problems). These
baseline differences could in turn account for the increased likelihood of certain reasons for closure within same-race
pairs, rather than the actual experience within the same-race pairing (Rhodes, Reddy, Grossman, & Lee, 2002).
Match on gender was generally not a significant predictor of relationship length in our sample. However, these find-
ings should be interpreted with great caution, given that all youth in the sample were boys, and gender concordance is
a key matching criterion in the Big Brothers Big Sisters programs used for our sample, resulting in very little variability
around gender matching in current analyses. Moreover, it is possible that specific findings around shared interest and
disinterest might not generalize to a sample that includes female youth. For example, it is possible that activity pref-
erences play a larger role in the success of matches between male mentors and youth, whereas other factors, such as
personality or relational tendencies, play a more important role in the duration of matches between female mentors
and youth. Further research, using mentors and youth randomized to matches based on characteristics such as gender,
is therefore needed.
Self-report inventories of mentor and youth preferences for activities enabled us to code for baseline concordance
and discordance of mentor and youth likes and dislikes.Interestingly, these results revealed that matches with a greater
number of shared dislikes for specific activities had the longest lasting matches, were less likely to experience an early
termination prior to the program's one-year expectation, were less likely to report terminating the relationship for
various common reasons (e.g., loss of interest, lack of time), and were more likely to report successfully completing the
match. These findings are intriguing and suggest that mentoring programs might benefit from assessing and taking into
account the activities mentors and youth do not prefer, in addition to those activities they like.
Results are consistent with the idea that, especially in the early stages of the relationship, shared negative attitudes
might be more potent than positive attitudes, permitting greater differentiation from others and affiliation within the
match (Byrne, 1971), particularly if one's dislike for an activity is unusual or inconsistent with prevailing opinions in
one's peer group. Indeed, one series of experiments found that participants felt more familiar with and liked strangers
more when they shared their dislikes overtheir likes (Harding, 2006), and other investigations have found that negative
self-disclosure is associated with heightened feelings of friendship quality and closeness among youth (Rose, 2002).
Relatedly, findings within the youth mentoring literature suggest that the absence of conflict might be more important
than indices of positive relationship quality in predicting relationship duration (Spencer, 2007), as well as the impact of
the mentoring relationship on youth outcomes (Cavell, Elledge, Malcolm, Faith, & Hughes, 2009).
Perhaps less surprising, matches in which there were a greater number of youth interests that were not endorsed
by mentors were associated with the largest risk for earlier match termination, and these matches also tended to have
the greatest risk for early termination and the smallest likelihood of lasting more than three years. These findings sug-
gest that it might be essential for mentoring programs to encourage mentors to actively engage around youth inter-
ests, even when they do not necessarily match with the mentor's preferences. This idea is consistent with previous
work highlighting the effectiveness of developmental, or relationship-oriented, approaches to youth mentoring (Mor-
row & Styles, 1995). In developmental relationships, the mentor emphasizes youth needs and decision-making, with
an eye toward providing new opportunities and support for the youth. Such an approach is in contrast to a prescrip-
tive approach, which can tend to ignore the specific preferences of the youth as the mentor plans activities in the
service of certain goals or expectations not shared by the youth, such as academic improvement (Morrow & Styles,
Finally, the descriptive results from our sample also yielded several interesting findings. In particular, analyses of
match length showed that the majority of community-based mentoring relationships in this sample closed within two
years (60%), with approximately one third closing within the first year (35%). The most commonly cited reasons for
closure of the relationship included the mentor or youth moving away, loss of interest in the relationship, and lack of
time for mentoring, with only 13% of mentors reporting closure because of successfully completing the relationship.
Such findings have important implications for program and participant expectations about the strength and duration
of formally assigned mentoring relationships.
As noted earlier, longevity is an important factor accounting for variability in mentoring relationships effects, with
several studies highlighting the negative consequences of unexpected, early terminations (Dubois, Neville, Parra, &
RAPOSA ET AL.11
Pugh-Lilly, 2002; Grossman & Rhodes, 2002; Grossman et al., 2012; Karcher, 2005; Slicker & Palmer, 1993; Spencer,
2006). Therefore, it is essential to foster realistic expectations about the time-limited nature of most mentoring rela-
tionships for mentors and families of youth, while training mentors around the issues of actively engaging youth
in the mentoring relationship, to avoid premature termination because of loss of interest or avoidable logistical
issues. Finally, mentor–youth relationships were mostly likely to end at the start of summer (i.e., June), suggest-
ing that added support for community-based mentoring matches during the summer months could help to improve
Several limitations of the current analyses should be acknowledged. First, as noted above, prediction based on match-
ing characteristics was restricted to the typical program practices of Big Brothers Big Sisters community-based pro-
grams. All youth were boys and most matches were same-gender, which prohibited exploration of the impact of gender-
based matching. Moreover, because matches were not randomly assigned, it is possible that other match characteris-
tics not assessed here could help to account for the observed effects. To address this most essential limitation, future
studies using random assignment of mentors to youth are necessary to fully assess the role of match characteristics on
Additionally, our measures of shared interest and reason for closure were developed by the mentoring agency for
routine program assessment, and the measure of shared interest was based on dichotomized variables that involved
forced choices between liking and disliking particular activities. Future studies could benefit from creating and using
well-validated assessments of these constructs, with established indices of reliability. Relatedly, the effect sizes for
the impact of our matching variables on match length also tended to fall within the “small” range, indicating that
thorough measurement of other match characteristics is necessary to more fully account for variability in match
Current analyses focused on the impact of match characteristics on the length of the mentor–youth relationship as
well as reasons for match closure, and did not directly measure mentoring relationship quality or the impact of mentor-
ing on youth outcomes. A growing body of evidence suggests that match length often corresponds to relationship sat-
isfaction and is an important factor accounting for variability in mentoring program effects, with longer relationships
benefitting youth more (Dubois , Neville, et al., 2002; Grossman & Rhodes, 2002; Grossman et al., 2012; Karcher,2005;
Slicker & Palmer, 1993; Spencer, 2006). Yet several studies have also shown robust effects of mentoring in short-term
relationships (Cavell & Henrie, 2010; McQuillin, Strait, Bradley, & Ingram, 2015). To explore these issues more fully
within the context of mentor–youth matching, future studies should collect information from parents, youth, and men-
tors about the relationship quality and duration, as well as key youth outcomes across different areas of psychosocial
and academic functioning. This will allow for a more precise determination of how optimal matching between mentors
and youth influences diverse mentoring outcomes.
Finally, it should be noted that youthage was associated with many of our key study variables, and the youth'sdevel-
opmental stage likely shapes the importance of factors such as race/ethnicity match or shared activity preferences
between mentor and youth. Future research should further explore these issues to determine how youth age might be
accounted for in evidence-based matching practices.
This study offers an important first step toward understanding how concordance or discordance on a range of baseline
characteristics affects mentoring relationships. Future studies should continue to explore the ways inwhich matching
practices can influence mentoring relationship outcomes, as well as the specific mechanisms that account for these
effects. Such research has important implications for our conceptual understanding of the role of similarity in close
relationships, as well as practical implications for youth mentoring programs looking to create long-lasting and impact-
ful matches between mentors and youth.
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Additional supporting information may be found online in the Supporting Information section at the end of the article.
How to cite this article: Raposa EB, Ben-Eliyahu A, Olsho LE, Rhodes J. Birds of a feather: Is matching based on
shared interests and characteristics associated with longer youth mentoring relationships? J Community Psychol.