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Business - Written by on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 0:36 - 3 Comments

Naumi Haque
Rich people have fewer friends

I was doing some background research for an upcoming project on social networks and came across an interesting paragraph from a paper by renowned sociologist Mark Granovetter (“The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited”). The core of the argument (in the paragraph, not the paper) is that people develop strong social ties to those similar to themselves and since there are fewer individuals in the upper strata of society, those at the top have fewer close friends.

“‘Peter Blau has suggested that since the class structure of modern societies is pyramidal, and since we may expect individuals at all levels to be inclined toward homophily—the tendency to choose as friends those similar to oneself—it follows that the lower one’s class stratum, the greater the relative frequency of strong ties. This happens because homophilous ties are more likely to be strong and low-status individuals are so numerous that it is easier for them to pick and choose as friends others similar to themselves.’ A literal interpretation of this comment would lead us to expect upper-status individuals to have large numbers of weak ties, since there are so few others of high status; it would further follow that many of these weak ties would then be to others of lower status, since the latter would be so numerous. This conclusion does not accord with ethnographic accounts of upper-class life that stress the importance of strong ties to other members of the upper class. But it does suggest why the upper class must invest so much in institutions such as private clubs, special schools, and social registers; the effort to maintain a network of homophilous strong ties is more difficult here than for lower strata.”

Two things on this:

First, I think most people have a limit (emotional or in terms of time invested) of how many close relationships they want to nurture, and in general, this number is fewer than the available pool of suitable friends at most levels of society. Of course, this is speaking as a middle strata individual – maybe the truly rich to have a hard time finding people they can relate to.

Second, the development of elitist social networking sites (see the Globe & Mail article “Facebook? LinkedIn? Leave ‘em to the riffraff”) would seem to make sense, since upper strata individuals would want to foster close ties with others similar to themselves. However, those individuals would also benefit from maintaining weak ties with those in the lower strata through more traditional social networks like Facebook. Perhaps what’s needed here is better social graphs.



3 Comments

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Sean Moffitt
May 16, 2008 6:38

Naumi,

Loving the posts Naumi. Couldn’t agree more with your thesis here and nice link to Granovetter.

Inspiration for my recent post:
http://buzzcanuck.typepad.com/agentwildfire/2008/05/which-wheel-wou.html

We should have chatted yesterday…next time.

Naumi Haque
May 16, 2008 12:04

Great post by Sean on weak ties, with some cool contrasting friend wheels – go check it out.

Wikinomics » Blog Archive » My Facebook birthday
Jul 3, 2008 11:25

[...] less in-person communication and more online communication. In the post-Facebook era, my network of weak ties has also grown, meaning that the amount of “random” communication with not-as-close friends has [...]

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