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The Boston Globe


Uncommon Knowledge

I’m a zombie now, really!

And other surprising insights from the social sciencs

Inequality: Blame social networks?

For most of human history, people lived in small, egalitarian groups—and contrary to what you might assume, status, power, and wealth were not inherited. How did inherited inequality become such a powerful force in human societies? A pair of sociologists argues that the change was driven by social networking. As a population grows from a small group to a larger one, the proportion of people who know each other personally falls, and so one’s centrality in the network becomes more important for cultivating status, relative to other aspects of ability. Given that children tend to inherit their parents’ connections, and thus their position in the network, they can then inherit their parents’ status, too.

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