Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Do Mobile Phones Help Expand Social Capital? An Empirical Case Study

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Abstract:  The rapid adoption of mobile phones, particularly in developing countries, has led a number of researchers to investigate their impact on socioeconomic activity in the developing world. However, until the recent advent of smart communication devices, mobile phones were primarily a relations management technology that enabled people to stay connected with each other. In this article, we focus on this basic function and analyze how people use this technology as a tool to expand their social capital. We use a dataset containing more than three billion call detail records from Rwanda’s largest telecommunication operator, covering the whole country during the period from 1 July 2014 to 31 March 2015, and combine these records with data from the fourth Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda in 2015. We found that people’s calling patterns significantly correlated with the income level of their region, which also dictated the destinations of their calls, with middle-income regions acting as a link between the richest and the poorest regions. From these results, we propose a framework for understanding the role of mobile phones in the development of social capital.

Keywords:  call detail records; mobile phones; telecommunications; network analysis; poverty; Rwanda; social capital



© Alain Shema, Martha Garcia-Murillo. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.