Good urban topology can resolve income inequalities encoded in networks of friendships


Rising inequalities are a global problem. In a new study published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications, researchers from ELKH KRTK, ELKH TK, ELTE, Corvinus University, CEU and the International Business School have shown, based on domestic data, that urban topology can have a crucial impact on our social networks, and through this it can also help resolve inequalities.

“The increase in income inequality is coded in our social relations,” says Balázs Lengyel, a researcher at ELKH KRTK and Corvinus University, the correspondent author of the study. “We make friends with similar people, usually by knowing our friend's friend as well. These are fundamental features of the evolution of social relationships, which can lead to creating segregates in large social networks, such as a city. In most societies, income status is an important similarity factor for friendships, which is why the poor are segregated from the rich in networks of friends. This could lead to a further increase in inequalities, as the information and opportunities needed for prosperity are difficult to get from the rich to the poor.”

The researchers found indirect evidence for this connection using anonymous data from the iWiW network. The study shows that income inequality increased more between 2011 and 2016 in Hungarian cities where the network was segregated and income inequality was high in 2011.


What could be behind the network segregation of cities? The study found that long distances within cities, the concentration of services at the center, and physical barriers in the city, such as railways, rivers, or major roads, all make encounters difficult and increase network segregation.

Urban topology can play a role in reducing network segregation. “Although friendships cannot be formed by regulation, the services available in the city and the elimination of physical barriers can create opportunities for encounters and interactions,” adds Bence Ságvári (ELKH TK), one of the co-authors of the study. One of the important claims of the research is that the transformation of the physical spatial structure through urban topology can contribute to the reduction of inequalities in the long run.

The study, written by Gergő Tóth, Johannes Wachs, Ricardo Di Clemente, Ákos Jakobi, Bence Ságvári, János Kertész and Balázs Lengyel, is freely available in English at this link.