The Demand for Social Interaction
NBER Working Paper No. 11881
In this paper social interaction is modeled as a consumer good. Social interaction may provide an externality in the form of social capital, but the primary reason that individuals engage in social interaction is that these activities directly yield utility. It is important to note that some measures of social interaction show declines while many do not. A model of household production is employed to derive the demand for social interaction. The model shows that the demand for social interaction is a function of its price, the price of other goods and income. The role of children and marriage in social interaction can also be explained in the model. The theory is tested with data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the results show that social interaction can be explained as the consequence of utility maximizing behavior by individuals. Increases in education generally increase memberships but reduce visiting with relatives and friends. Increases in income generally increase memberships and some forms of visiting. The model predicts 70 percent, or more, of the time trends in social interaction. These results are in contrast to social capital theorists who have focused on the declines in social interaction and who have attributed these changes to factors such as increased community heterogeneity and increased television viewing.
Published: Saffer, Henry. "The Demand for Social Interaction." Journal of Socio-Economics 37, 3 (June 2008): 1047-60.