Beyond Distance Decay: Discover Homophily in Spatially Embedded Social Networks

Yang Xu, Paolo Santi, Carlo Ratti

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Existing studies suggest distance decay as an important geographic property of online social networks. Namely, social interactions are more likely to occur among people who are closer in physical space. Limited effort has been devoted so far, however, to quantifying the impact of homophily forces on social network structures. In this study, we provide a quantitative understanding of the joint impact of geographic distance and people’s socioeconomic characteristics on their interaction patterns. By coupling large-scale mobile phone, income, and housing price data sets in Singapore, we reconstruct a spatially embedded social network that captures the cell phone communications of millions of phone users in the city. By associating phone users with their estimated residence, we introduce two indicators (communication intensity and friendship probability) to examine the cell phone interactions among places with various housing price values. Our findings suggest that, after controlling for distance, similar places tend to have relatively higher communication intensity than dissimilar ones, confirming a significant homophily effect as a determinant of communication intensity. When the analysis is focused on the formation of social ties, though, the homophily effect is more nuanced. It persists at relatively short distances, whereas at higher distances a tendency to form ties with people in the highest social classes prevails. Overall, the results reported in this study have implications for understanding social segregation in cities. In particular, the physical separation of social groups in a city (e.g., residential segregation) will have a direct impact on shaping communication or social network segregation. The study highlights the importance of incorporating socioeconomic data into the understanding of spatial social networks.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • distance decay
  • homophily
  • mobile phone data
  • segregation
  • social network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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