The Impact of Mobile Phones on Social Capital in Developing Countries

15 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2016 Last revised: 27 Sep 2016

See all articles by Alain Shema

Alain Shema

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies

Martha Garcia-Murillo

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies

Date Written: August 26, 2016


Objective: The purpose of this study is to determine the extent to which mobile phones have allowed people to enhance their social capital and potentially their economic circumstances based on their interactions with people from a different economic class and geographical region.

Up to this point most of the research related to mobile phones has been about the economic benefits that users derive from the use mobile phones. This is because mobile phones  reduce transaction costs such as the search cost of finding a price or a doctor, the coordination costs of connecting buyers and suppliers for the delivery of products, and the monitoring of diseases, natural disasters and health epidemics, leading to efficiencies in these sectors, potentially alleviating poverty and even preventing unnecessary deaths.

One important aspect that has not been investigated in this area of research is the potential opportunities that mobile phones can provide to the population to expand their social capital and enhance social relationships. These social connections can benefit Society by reducing racial tensions and also providing with resources available through this Social Network.

Research works on social capital have found that social networks bring benefits to people because of the resources that they can acquire through others. These resources include: (1) information, (2) influence through intermediaries, (3) confirmations of trustworthiness, and (4) reinforcement of promises and commitments. These resources can help us to achieve our goals. Social capital is valuable because it creates ties for cooperation and reciprocity, providing information that can support our search for a job, obtain a promotion, or find suppliers or partners for a business.

Our study wants to find out whether there is a link between a location “connectedness” and its wealth. For example, Is the number of outgoing calls from an area correlates with its wealth? I.e., the more people within an area call other areas, the more the area is wealthy? Or the more an area receives calls, the more its wealth? Is there a relationship between the percentage of outgoing calls from an area vs calls remaining within that area?

Methods: This study involves an empirical statistical investigation using a dataset that contains an exhaustive list of call detail records (CDRs) provided by a mobile operator from an African country. We also have income level data  for each of the geographic locations where the calls were made and received. Based on these interactions, we want to determine whether people have the opportunity to interact with people outside of their economic class, potentially offering those in the lower class an opportunity to expand their social networks to wealthier communities. This correlational study aims at investigating the relationship between the interaction between people from different class status as defined by the economic classification of the location where they live, and such variables as income, location and other socioeconomic variables.

The findings from the study will have powerful implications for policies that aims at reducing poverty levels.

Keywords: mobile phones, social capital, call detail records

JEL Classification: O18, R00, Z00

Suggested Citation

Shema, Alain and Garcia-Murillo, Martha A., The Impact of Mobile Phones on Social Capital in Developing Countries (August 26, 2016). TPRC 44: The 44th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2016. Available at SSRN:

Alain Shema (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies ( email )

Hinds Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States

Martha A. Garcia-Murillo

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies ( email )

220 Hinds Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States
(315) 443-1829 (Phone)
(315) 443-5806 (Fax)

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