Amanda Pallais is the Robert C. Waggoner Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Her research studies the labor market performance and educational investment decisions of disadvantaged and socially excluded groups.
Amidst what the U.S. Surgeon general calls a “loneliness epidemic,” we propose that an inefficiency exacerbates social disconnection. People who want more friends are often advised to join an organization like a church, volunteer organization, or sports team. Meanwhile, most lonely people report having friends who they would like to introduce them to others. We argue that being introduced through mutual friends is more likely to lead to lasting relationships, but that difficulty in paying friends to organize get-togethers leads to inefficiently few connections. A field experiment shows that incentivizing individuals to connect their friends generates lasting relationships, while similarly introducing unconnected individuals does not. We then discuss how organizations can ameliorate this inefficiency by doing what individuals can’t: providing financial incentives, reducing organizing costs, and informing connectors how much organizing benefits their friends (which lonely people don't want to admit).