America is often described as a place of great divides — between red and blue, big cities and rural towns, the coasts and the heartland. But our social lives are shaped by a much stronger force that ignores many of these lines: distance.
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.
Coastal cities like New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles do exhibit close ties to one another, showing that people in counties with similar incomes, education levels and voting patterns are more likely to be linked. But nationwide, the effect of such similarity is small. And the pull of regionalism is strong even for major cities. Brooklynites are still more likely to know someone on Facebook near Albany or Binghamton than in the Bay Area.
A Picture of Social
Connectedness in America