Joshua Holden in Nautilus:
There’s a rude charm to the title, “Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You.” It’s catchy, like the title of an antagonistic explainer: Here are the causes of your lackluster social life. It sounds more like a New York Times op-ed than an academic paper. But in fact, “Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You” is a 1991 paper from Scott Feld published in the American Journal of Sociology. It now has some claim to fame for introducing into popular culture the so-called “friendship paradox,” which researchers have used to detect the early onset of contagious outbreaks and design effective vaccination strategies. New research, published in the Journal of Complex Networks, suggests the paradox is more nuanced than Feld figured it to be.
The paradox stems from our poor intuitions about networks and averages. If you were to guess how many friends you have, compared to the number of friends your friends have, how would you fare? You may say it’s your friends that have more friends than you, if you’re feeling modest. But it’s also the case that some of those friends who have more friends than you also have friends who have more friends than them, and so on. The friendship paradox says that this is true for everyone—on average, everyone has friends with more friends than they have.