Tiziano Arduini, Alberto Bisin, Onur Ozgur, Eleonora Patacchini, 27 November 2019

Smoking and alcohol use are widespread among adolescents in the US and are linked to negative socioeconomic effects.While existing research has separately looked at the dynamic choice and the social interactions that shape adolescent risky behaviours, this column considers both components in a dynamic social interactions model. Looking at alcohol and smoking use in a school environment, it finds that addiction and peer effects are more than twice as important as the effect of individual preferences in shaping risky behaviour and that students take into account the amount of time they have left in the school system.

Li Yang, Filip Novokmet, Branko Milanovic, 09 October 2019

The historically unprecedented economic and social transformation in China over the past four decades has seen urban areas becoming much richer, but also much more unequal. This column analyses changes in the Chinese urban elite. It finds that, compared to the 1980s, the elite today consists mainly of professionals, self-employed, and smaller and larger business people, they are much better educated, and they receive a much greater share of total urban income. This is reflected also in the composition of the Communist Party of China.

Guo Xu, Hans-Joachim Voth, 16 September 2019

People in power may use their discretion to hire and promote family members and others in their network. While some empirical evidence shows that such patronage is bad, its theoretical effects are ambiguous – discretion over appointments can be used for good or bad. This column examines the battle performance of British Royal Navy officers during the Age of Sail and finds that patronage ‘worked’. On average, officers with connections to the top of the naval hierarchy did better on every possible measure of performance than those without a family connection. Where top administrators have internalised meritocratic values and competition punishes underperformance, patronage may enhance overall performance by selecting better individuals.

Theresa Kuchler, Johannes Stroebel, 09 August 2019

The mixing of people and ideas in cities is at the heart of the ‘agglomeration externalities’ that drive the high productivity of cities. While public transit infrastructure is thought to help different people living in different parts of the same city to interact with one another, the lack of large-scale data has made it difficult to study. This column explores the link between public transit and social connectedness in New York City. It finds the first suggestive evidence that New York City’s public transit system plays an important role in enabling social ties to be formed and maintained across geographic distances.

Toshimori Otazawa, Yuki Ohira, Jos van Ommeren, 09 July 2019

Relationship-based distance has become as important a determinant of firm interactions as physical distance in recent years. This column presents evidence to support the claim that firms physically locate closer to others that proximate in their transaction networks, though this effect varies across industries and by age of firms.

Diether W. Beuermann, Kirabo Jackson, 06 July 2019

Most parents have strong views regarding which schools to send their children to. However, evidence shows that attending sought-after public secondary schools does not improve secondary-school examination performance. This column uses data from Barbados to show that secondary school choice does not appear to lead to improvements in exam performance. However, it does have a sizable effect on short-run non-cognitive outcomes that may affect longer-run outcomes.

Manzoor Dar, Alain De Janvry, Kyle Emerick, Erin Kelley, Elisabeth Sadoulet, 19 May 2019

Networks are important for transmitting knowledge among farmers, but it is not always easy or appropriate to identify the best farmers which whom to seed a new technology. The column shows that side-by-side demonstration plots for a new variety of rice are successful at inducing learning. This method makes it less important to identify the farmers best positioned to spread information and has the potential to target individuals who are not connected to influential farmers.

Jose Apesteguia, Joerg Oechssler, Simon Weidenholzer, 29 September 2018

Copy trading platforms, which allow traders on social networks to receive information on the success of other agents in financial markets and to directly copy their trades, have attracted millions of users in recent years. This column examines the implications of copy trading for investors’ risk taking. An experiment reveals that providing information on the success of others significantly increases risk taking, and that this increase is even greater when the option to directly copy others is present. The findings suggest that copy trading platforms may lead to excessive risk taking and reduce ex ante welfare.

Matthew Jackson, 19 April 2018

Social networks are important even in developing countries. Professor Matthew Jackson of Stanford University explains the channels through which they make an economic impact, and how to improve their study in economic research.

Ester Faia, Monica Paiella, 19 September 2017

Over the past decade, there has been substantial growth in peer-to-peer lending through digital platforms, which come with unique benefits and risks compared with traditional funding and investment instruments. This column presents an empirical analysis of the two largest platforms in the US. The results show that various hard and soft information signals have emerged to address inherent information asymmetries. The growth of the sector was further helped by fragility of the banking sector in the wake of Global Crisis.

Ruiqing Cao, Theresa Kuchler, Johannes Stroebel, Arlene Wong, 08 September 2017

Systematic analyses of social connectedness and social networks have traditionally been complicated by a lack of high-quality, large-scale data. This column uses data on friendship links on Facebook to construct a new measure of social connectedness between US counties, and between US counties and foreign countries. Social networks in the US are quite local, and both national and international networks are substantially shaped by historical events and migration patterns. The populations of US counties with more geographically dispersed social networks are generally richer and better educated, and have higher life expectancy and greater social mobility.

Jörg Paetzold, Hannes Winner, 17 December 2016

Since the Global Crisis, many governments around the world have initiated policies against tax evasion and harmful tax avoidance. This column uses data from an Austrian commuter allowance scheme to explore how the design of tax schemes and the social environment affect compliance. A substantial share of employees in the study misreport their commuting distance in order to receive more compensation. Employees also appear to be influenced by the misreporting behaviour of their co-workers, showing how tax evasion can have spillover effects.

Marcel Fafchamps, Julien Labonne, 31 May 2016

Politicians may have the opportunity to interfere with the allocation of public services to help to achieve their electoral objectives. This column argues that politicians share rents with central players to build and sustain coalitions. Using detailed data from the Philippines, it examines social networks and the allocation of municipal services. Households with greater potential to broker political coalitions do indeed appear to receive more services from their municipal government. 

William Kerr, Martin Mandorff, 31 October 2015

Immigrants are more likely to concentrate around specific industries and entrepreneurship. Market integration and discrimination only go a certain way towards explaining this phenomenon. This column explores how social interactions affect immigrants’ employment decisions in the US. Fifteen ethnic groups are found to cluster around certain industries at a rate 10 times greater than the native population. Immigrants are argued to be drawn to the same industries as their countrymen due to the ease of diffusing skills through social interactions in the group, along with higher earnings due to specialisation.

Eleonora Patacchini, Pierre Picard, Yves Zenou, 20 July 2015

Little is known about how social interactions are affected by geographical distance. This column argues that students tend to interact more with those who are highly central in the network of social contacts, and who are geographically closer. Geographical distance is then a hinder to social interactions. 

Trevon Logan, John Parman, 09 March 2015

Racial disparities in socioeconomic conditions remain a major policy issue throughout the world. This column applies a new neighbour-based measure of residential segregation to US census data from 1880 and 1940. The authors find that existing measures understate the extent of segregation, and that segregation increased in rural as well as urban areas. The dramatic decline in opposite-race neighbours during the 20th century may help to explain the persistence of racial inequality in the US.

Corrado Giulietti, Jackline Wahba, Yves Zenou, 21 December 2014

Migration is heavily influenced by social networks. Nonetheless, little is known about the underlying mechanisms. This column uses a new dataset from China to disentangle the effects of strong and weak ties on the migration decision. The findings indicate that strong and weak ties act as complements. Having many weak ties with an urban area amplifies the positive impact of having a strong tie in the same area. 

Margherita Comola, Marcel Fafchamps, 04 November 2014

How should researchers investigate the true role of people’s self-reported social links in getting a job, getting a favour or simply getting information? This column introduces a framework to estimate the process by which people’s self-reported social links are formed. The authors show that different link formation rules predict the different network structures seen in data from a risk-sharing survey in a Tanzanian village and the diffusion of agricultural knowledge in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

Xiaodong Liu, Eleonora Patacchini, Yves Zenou, 09 April 2013

Economists know that your peers’ behaviour affects your economic and social outcomes. But what mechanisms are at work here? This column highlights the two major approaches that hope to explain ‘peer effects’: either people don’t want to deviate from social norms; or they are affected by a ‘social multiplier’, the influence of the sum of their peers’ behaviour. Using detailed data on friendship networks, evidence suggests that there are strong social-multiplier effects in criminal behaviour whereas, for education, social norms matter the most. A detailed understanding of peer effects will undoubtedly help policymakers better tackle social problems.

Alessandra Fogli, Laura Veldkamp, 21 October 2012

Does the pattern of social connections between individuals matter for macroeconomic outcomes? This paper uses network analysis tools to explore how different social structures affect technology diffusion and thereby a country’s rate of technological progress.

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