Nature (2022)Cite this article
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Social capital—the strength of an individual’s social network and community—has been identified as a potential determinant of outcomes ranging from education to health1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. However, efforts to understand what types of social capital matter for these outcomes have been hindered by a lack of social network data. Here, in the first of a pair of papers9, we use data on 21 billion friendships from Facebook to study social capital. We measure and analyse three types of social capital by ZIP (postal) code in the United States: (1) connectedness between different types of people, such as those with low versus high socioeconomic status (SES); (2) social cohesion, such as the extent of cliques in friendship networks; and (3) civic engagement, such as rates of volunteering. These measures vary substantially across areas, but are not highly correlated with each other. We demonstrate the importance of distinguishing these forms of social capital by analysing their associations with economic mobility across areas. The share of high-SES friends among individuals with low SES—which we term economic connectedness—is among the strongest predictors of upward income mobility identified to date10,11. Other social capital measures are not strongly associated with economic mobility. If children with low-SES parents were to grow up in counties with economic connectedness comparable to that of the average child with high-SES parents, their incomes in adulthood would increase by 20% on average. Differences in economic connectedness can explain well-known relationships between upward income mobility and racial segregation, poverty rates, and inequality12,13,14. To support further research and policy interventions, we publicly release privacy-protected statistics on social capital by ZIP code at https://www.socialcapital.org.