Income-related spatial concentration of individual social capital in cities


Social connections that span across diverse urban neighborhoods can support prosperity by mobilizing social capital. However, there is limited evidence on the spatial structure of individual social capital inside cities. This paper demonstrates that social capital measured by online social connections is spatially more concentrated for residents of lower-income neighborhoods than for residents of higher-income neighborhoods. We map the micro-geography of individual online social networks in the 50 largest metropolitan areas of the United States using a large-scale geolocalized Twitter dataset. We analyze the spatial dimension of individual social capital by the share of friends, closed triangles, and share of supported ties within circles of short distance radii (1, 3, 5, and 10 km) around users’ home location. We compare residents from below-median income neighborhoods with above-median income neighborhoods, and find that users living in relatively poorer neighborhoods have a significantly higher share of connections in close proximity. Moreover, their network is more cohesive and supported within a short distance from their home. These patterns prevail across the 50 largest US metropolitan areas with only a few exceptions. The found disparities in the micro-geographic concentration of social capital can feed segregation and income inequality within cities constraining social circles of low-income residents.