The Journal of Economic Inequality

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 299–342 | Cite as

Social network capital, economic mobility and poverty traps

  • Sommarat Chantarat
  • Christopher B. Barrett


This paper explores the role social network capital might play in facilitating poor agents’ escape from poverty traps. We model and simulate endogenous link formation among households heterogeneously endowed with both traditional and social network capital who make investment and technology choices over time in the absence of financial markets and faced with multiple production technologies featuring different fixed costs and returns. We show that social network capital can either complement or substitute for productive assets in facilitating some poor households’ escape from poverty. However, the voluntary nature of costly link formation also creates exclusionary mechanisms that impede some poor households’ use of social network capital. Through numerical simulation, we show that the ameliorative potential of social networks therefore depends fundamentally on the broader socio-economic wealth distribution in the economy, which determines the feasibility of social interactions and the net intertemporal benefits resulting from endogenous network formation. In some settings, targeted public transfers to the poor can crowd-in private resources by inducing new social links that the poor can exploit to escape from poverty.


Social network capital Endogenous network formation Poverty traps Multiple equilibria Social isolation Social exclusion Crowding-in transfer 

JEL Classification

D85 I32 O12 Z13 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ardnt-Corden Department of Economics, Crawford School of Economics and GovernmentThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Stephen B. & Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management, Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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