Exploring the influence of others: modelling social connections in contemporary Britain

Vernon Gayle, University of Edinburgh

Vernon Gayle

Co Authors
Paul Lambert, David Griffiths, Mark Tranmer

Social Distance, Social Stratification, Spirit Level,

In addition to information on respondents, large scale social surveys routinely include data on other individuals who have connections with the respondent. This information is usually collected by interviewing current and previous household members. Additional information, for example on friends, is often collected directly from the respondents. Despite the availability of these data, it is common for analyses to be restricted to individual-level explanatory frameworks that fail to exploit information on social connections. In this paper we present results which attempt to summarise the magnitude of the effects of social connections on a range of outcomes. Information on linked individuals can be incorporated in statistical models (e.g. by the inclusion additional explanatory variables, or through random effects estimating patterns of association for clusters of linked individuals). The innovative aspect of this present paper is that we exploit data on social connections to construct measures of the ‘social distances’ between various groups as an alternative way of considering locations on the contemporary social landscape. In recent influential work, The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) provide a persuasive argument that increased societal inequality is linked to a range of undesirable social outcomes. These outcomes can reasonably be considered as barometers of ‘what matters’ in contemporary societies. Using the British Household Panel and Understanding Society data we develop a range of similar measures. Our analyses examine the role of social connections when modelling these indicators at the individual level with social survey data.