This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Spatial Demography of Facebook

Where you are matters just as who you are (your socioeconomic characteristics) matters in life. This is not about geographic determinism; it is about social connectedness. This was illustrated beautifully by a story today in the New York Times highlighting research on the geographic distribution of friends on Facebook.
In the millions of ties on Facebook that connect relatives, co-workers, classmates and friends, Americans are far more likely to know people nearby than in distant communities that share their politics or mirror their demographics. The dominant picture in data analyzed by economists at Facebook, Harvard, Princeton and New York University is not that like-minded places are linked; rather, people in counties close to one another are.
Even in the age of the internet, distance matters immensely in determining whom — and, as a result, what — we know.
Distance isn't the only important thing, of course, but since people who are similar tend to live near one another, the effect is amplified. This is a strong reminder that we are social creatures, and that point is made nicely at the end of the article by Mark Granovetter, who was a pioneer in social network analysis:
The patterns in this Facebook data don’t necessarily mean that limited social networks cause worse economic and health outcomes, or that wide-ranging networks produce better ones. But other researchers say this data will make it possible in future studies to untangle why they’re related.
“This gives us the first way to systematically look at some of those relationships,” said Mark Granovetter, a sociologist at Stanford who has written influential papers on the value of social networks. “They have just scratched the surface here.”

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