Which Facebook “friends” help most when looking for a job? It depends where you live in the world

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Jan. 18, 2017) —If a job hunt is in your plans for 2017, your social network may be the best place to start. But whether you should concentrate your networking on your numerous “weak ties,” which is how most jobs are found, or a single “strong tie” who will champion your cause depends in part on the country in which you live.

Research from Tufts University found that the role of weak and strong ties in job searches is important around the world, but the value of a single strong tie is even more important for job seekers in countries with pronounced income inequality, such as South Africa, Nicaragua, and Haiti. Conversely, it turns out that a single strong tie is not as important for job seekers in countries with greater socio-economic equality, such as Sweden, Slovenia, and the Netherlands.

Laura Gee, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics (Credit: Ryan McBride)Laura Gee, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics (Credit: Ryan McBride)
 The study, published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, used anonymous Facebook data from almost 17 million social connections in 55 countries to determine  which of  these  ties actually have the most impact on getting a job. It is the first research of its kind to use a single data set to compare the value of tie strength across countries.

 “In many ways, the results tell us the best way to use your network to find your job,” said lead author Laura Gee, assistant professor of economics in the School of Arts & Sciences at  Tufts.  “It’ll  vary  country to country how much extra help you will get from an individual strong tie instead of a weak tie.”

 The study is built on a companion paper published last year in which Gee and her co-authors sought to use Facebook users’ anonymous data to test a 1973 study that suggested that  weak    ties  tap into a  broader network. Gee’s team’s study confirmed that, collectively, weaker ties are more helpful in the U.S. because of their number; more than 90 percent of ties on  Facebook  are  considered weak,  according to the study. However, a strong tie is much more helpful on an individual basis perhaps because of a strong tie’s personal interest in a job  seeker’s success.

 The more recent international study, like the U.S. research, identified jobs from self-reported Facebook profile information and identified three Facebook indicators to determine  relationship    strength:  tagging someone; having many friends in common with someone; and regularly posting on someone’s wall. These Facebook indicators were used to assign a  friendship-strength  number  —from one to  100—to every “friend.”

In all 55 countries, the study found that more people get jobs with employers at which their weak ties work. However, the findings show a significant variation in the added value of a single strong tie versus a single weak tie across countries. For example, a strong tie is twice as useful in South Africa than a strong tie in Sweden.

“If you went into a country with a lot of inequality and you had to choose one friend to help you find a job, you are better off choosing quality over quantity by networking with a friend you are close to rather than with one of your numerous weaker ties,” said Gee.

Additional authors are Jason J. Jones of the Department of Sociology, SUNY Stony Brook; Christopher J. Fariss of Department of Political Science, University of Michigan; Moira Burke of Facebook; and James F. Fowler of Global Health Division, University of California, and Department of Political Science, University of California.

Gee et al. “The paradox of weak ties in 55 countries.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2016. DOI:10.1016/j.jebo.2016.12.004


About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.



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