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  1. Abstract 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 health 1–8 . 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 papers 9 , 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 date 10,11 . Other social capital measures are not strongly associated with economic mobility. Ifmore »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 inequality 12–14 . To support further research and policy interventions, we publicly release privacy-protected statistics on social capital by ZIP code at https://www.socialcapital.org .« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 4, 2023
  2. Abstract Low levels of social interaction across class lines have generated widespread concern 1–4 and are associated with worse outcomes, such as lower rates of upward income mobility 4–7 . Here we analyse the determinants of cross-class interaction using data from Facebook, building on the analysis in our companion paper 7 . We show that about half of the social disconnection across socioeconomic lines—measured as the difference in the share of high-socioeconomic status (SES) friends between people with low and high SES—is explained by differences in exposure to people with high SES in groups such as schools and religious organizations. The other half is explained by friending bias—the tendency for people with low SES to befriend people with high SES at lower rates even conditional on exposure. Friending bias is shaped by the structure of the groups in which people interact. For example, friending bias is higher in larger and more diverse groups and lower in religious organizations than in schools and workplaces. Distinguishing exposure from friending bias is helpful for identifying interventions to increase cross-SES friendships (economic connectedness). Using fluctuations in the share of students with high SES across high school cohorts, we show that increases in high-SES exposure lead low-SES peoplemore »to form more friendships with high-SES people in schools that exhibit low levels of friending bias. Thus, socioeconomic integration can increase economic connectedness in communities in which friending bias is low. By contrast, when friending bias is high, increasing cross-SES interactions among existing members may be necessary to increase economic connectedness. To support such efforts, we release privacy-protected statistics on economic connectedness, exposure and friending bias for each ZIP (postal) code, high school and college in the United States at https://www.socialcapital.org .« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 4, 2023
  3. Abstract The willingness to pay for insurance captures the value of insurance against only the risk that remains when choices are observed. This article develops tools to measure the ex ante expected utility impact of insurance subsidies and mandates when choices are observed after some insurable information is revealed. The approach retains the transparency of using reduced-form willingness to pay and cost curves, but it adds one additional sufficient statistic: the percentage difference in marginal utilities between insured and uninsured. I provide an approach to estimate this additional statistic that uses only the reduced-form willingness to pay curve, combined with a measure of risk aversion. I compare the approach to structural approaches that require fully specifying the choice environment and information sets of individuals. I apply the approach using existing willingness to pay and cost curve estimates from the low-income health insurance exchange in Massachusetts. Ex ante optimal insurance prices are roughly 30% lower than prices that maximize observed market surplus. While mandates reduce market surplus, the results suggest they would actually increase ex ante expected utility.
  4. Abstract We conduct a comparative welfare analysis of 133 historical policy changes over the past half-century in the United States, focusing on policies in social insurance, education and job training, taxes and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers. For each policy, we use existing causal estimates to calculate the benefit that each policy provides its recipients (measured as their willingness to pay) and the policy’s net cost, inclusive of long-term effects on the government’s budget. We divide the willingness to pay by the net cost to the government to form each policy’s Marginal Value of Public Funds, or its ``MVPF''. Comparing MVPFs across policies provides a unified method of assessing their effect on social welfare. Our results suggest that direct investments in low-income children’s health and education have historically had the highest MVPFs, on average exceeding 5. Many such policies have paid for themselves as the government recouped the cost of their initial expenditures through additional taxes collected and reduced transfers. We find large MVPFs for education and health policies among children of all ages, rather than observing diminishing marginal returns throughout childhood. We find smaller MVPFs for policies targeting adults, generally between 0.5 and 2. Expenditures on adults have exceededmore »this MVPF range in particular if they induced large spillovers on children. We relate our estimates to existing theories of optimal government policy, and we discuss how the MVPF provides lessons for the design of future research.« less