Online friends really are richer and happier than you, study finds

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 4:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 4:37am

We like to blame Facebook and Instagram for making it seem as though all of our friends lead cooler, more sociable and more interesting lives.

But it turns out social networks are not at fault: your friends really are richer, happier and more popular than you, according to a depressing new study released for review last week by researchers in Finland and France.

The phenomenon, called the "generalised friendship paradox", at first glance makes no sense. Everyone's friends cannot be richer and more popular - that would just escalate until everyone's a socialite billionaire.

The whole thing turns on averages, though. Most people have small numbers of friends and, apparently, moderate levels of wealth and happiness.

A few people have buckets of friends and money and are wildly happy. When you take the two groups together, the obnoxiously lucky people skew the numbers for the rest of us. Here's how the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review magazine explains the maths:

"The paradox arises because numbers of friends people have are distributed in a way that follows a power law, rather than an ordinary linear relationship. So most people have a few friends while a small number of people have lots of friends.

"It's this second small group that causes the paradox. People with lots of friends are more likely to number among your friends in the first place. And when they do, they significantly raise the average number of friends that your friends have. That's the reason that, on average, your friends have more friends than you do." And this rule doesn't just apply to friendship - other studies have shown that your Twitter followers have more followers than you, and your sexual partners have more partners than you've had.

The study, by Young-Ho Eom at the University of Toulouse and Hang-Hyun Jo at Aalto University in Finland, concluded "generalised friendship paradox" applies to all interpersonal networks, whether in real life or online.



Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to: SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive