One Key to Social and Economic Opportunity: Friendship

A huge new study drawn from Facebook data reveals the connections between social capital and economic mobility.

Ayear ago, in Bulwark article, I proposed a social and economic opportunity agenda for young people, job seekers, and people starting careers—an agenda that emphasizes knowledge and relationships: what individuals know, but also who they know. This understanding of opportunity focuses on social capital, the relationships and special friendships we develop with others that broaden our knowledge, deepen our skills, and expand our social networks.

Two new analyses of the relationship between social capital and economic mobility by Harvard economist Raj Chetty and nearly two dozen colleagues at the National Bureau of Economic Research provide new and compelling evidence for this view.

The study analyzed the zip code information of 72.2 million U.S. Facebook users—84 percent of all American adults between the ages of 25 and 44—whose accounts produced 21 billion Facebook “friendships.” Individuals were active on Facebook at least once in the prior 30 days and had at least 100 U.S.-based friends on the site.

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