How does socioeconomic status influence social relations? A perspective from mobile phone data

Socioeconomic status (SES) and social relations are two important aspects of human social life. Does socioeconomic status influence social relations? If some relationship exists, it will help us understand various social issues such as economic mobility, social segregation, and disparity in health outcomes. Despite long-term efforts, our knowledge about how SES influences the strength and types of social relations is still limited. In this study, we used a large mobile phone dataset in Beijing, China, to study the relationship between SES and the strength and types of social relations at an urban population level. Specifically, we divided the social relations into three types based on users’ spatiotemporal mobility similarity: (1) family members with high similarity on weekday nights and weekends; (2) coworkers with high similarity on weekdays during the daytime; (3) friends with low similarity all the time. An individual’s SES was represented by the housing price in the home location. The results showed that people of higher SES (living in areas with higher housing prices) tend to interact less with others and allocate more time with friends but less time with family and coworkers than people of lower SES. Besides, people of higher SES split their time more unevenly to different social relationships. These findings shed light on solutions related to SES and inequality. For example, people of low SES could learn to expand their social circles by connecting with people who are different from their daily environment, which may bring upward social mobility and improve their well-being.

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