Multidimensional Tie Strength and Economic Development

by   Luca Maria Aiello, et al.

The strength of social relations has been shown to affect an individual's access to opportunities. To date, however, the correspondence between tie strength and population's economic prospects has not been quantified, largely because of the inability to operationalise strength based on Granovetter's classic theory. Our work departed from the premise that tie strength is a unidimensional construct (typically operationalized with frequency or volume of contact), and used instead a validated model of ten fundamental dimensions of social relationships grounded in the literature of social psychology. We built state-of-the-art NLP tools to infer the presence of these dimensions from textual communication, and analyzed a large conversation network of 630K geo-referenced Reddit users across the entire US connected by 12.8M social ties created over the span of 7 years. We found that unidimensional tie strength is only weakly correlated with economic opportunities (R2=0.30), while multidimensional constructs are highly correlated (R2=0.62). In particular, economic opportunities are associated to the combination of: i) knowledge ties, which bridge geographically distant groups, facilitating the knowledge dissemination across communities; and ii) social support ties, which knit geographically close communities together, and represent dependable sources of social and emotional support. These results point to the importance of developing high-quality measures of tie strength in network theory.


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