Social Network Capital, Economic Mobility and Poverty Traps
Journal of Economic Inequality
61 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2008 Last revised: 1 Sep 2014
Date Written: June 25, 2008
This paper explores the role social network capital might play in facilitating poor agents' escape from poverty traps. We model and simulate endogenous network formation among households heterogeneously endowed with both traditional and social network capital who make investment and technology choices over time in the absence of financial markets and faced with multiple production technologies featuring different fixed costs and returns. We show that social network capital can serve as either a complement to or a substitute for productive assets in facilitating some poor households' escape from poverty. However, the voluntary nature of costly social network formation also creates both involuntary and voluntary exclusionary mechanisms that impede some poor households' exit from poverty. Through numerical simulation, we show that the ameliorative potential of social networks therefore depends fundamentally on broader socioeconomic conditions, including the underlying wealth distribution in the economy, that determine the feasibility of social interactions and the net intertemporal benefits of social network formation. In some settings, targeted public transfers to the poor can crowd-in private resources by inducing new social links that the poor can exploit to escape from poverty.
Keywords: social network capital, endogenous network formation, poverty traps, multiple equilibria, social isolation, social exclusion, crowding-in transfer
JEL Classification: D85, I32, O12, Z13
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