Social media are considered data octopuses. They collect a lot of material about their users and evaluate it. But now scientists are exploring the terrain and finding incredible things.
Almost everyone dreams of wealth, and there is apparently a simple recipe for building it. Data from the social network Facebook, of all places, points the way. This is shown by a study that is currently making the rounds worldwide.
Scientists in the U.S. have analyzed the data of 72 million Facebook users, taking a close look at the 21 billion or so friendships they have. They found, for example, that almost everyone moves within their social class.
“People with higher incomes also tend to have well-off friends,” conclude the experts in the study, which involved the prestigious universities of Harvard, Stanford and New York.
This seems logical, since it is the same in real life and many people move within their income bracket. However, the analysis also shows how advancement is achieved within a society.
Rise through friends
“We call it economic connectedness,” Theresa Kuchler, a professor of finance at New York University, for example, told the weekly newspaper Zeit (Swiss edition) in an interview. The factor of wealthy friends on Facebook increases the chances of advancement very well, she explained.
“Children from poor families who grow up in places with high economic connectedness earn significantly better as adults,” it said.
There is a lot of information in the anonymized Facebook data, such as the model of smartphone one uses. But also the places from which one logs in, the school or college one attends.
From this, the socioeconomic status of the users and their place of residence could be derived. “And the same applies to friends, of course,” the data expert explained.
From other data, such as the average income in the corresponding zip code areas, the experts then deduce which income bracket the children of a particular area will later belong to as adults. The strongest influence on where poor children escape their circumstances, she said, is economic connectedness, or “connections” on Facebook.
Around 20 percent more salary
It’s almost irrelevant, the expert said, whether you look at places where predominantly whites, blacks or Latinos live, or how high the average income is in a neighborhood. “If people of different classes make friends, the poor do better later,” she concluded.
Children from low-income families could earn up to 20 percent more as adults in this way.
Help with challenges
The researchers only compared incomes and zip codes with the results, but not individual CVs. However, numerous people came forward after the study was published who had experienced just such a rise, they said.
The contacts with better-off people had indeed been influenced in their lifestyles, were shown higher professions or were helped to apply for college or enter the workforce, numerous people said.
Consequences for Switzerland
According to the scientists, the results are applicable to the entire world and should lead to the right measures in politics. For example, the New York professor says that it is a social mandate to ensure that people from different socioeconomic backgrounds are friends with each other in order for children to develop.
So this points the way to greater wealth for Switzerland, too: smart urban planning could determine whether poorer children escape their backgrounds, because on sports fields and playgrounds or in swimming pools, gaps are more easily overcome and friendships are forged regardless of social status.