Innovations and Economic Output Scale with Social Interactions in the Workforce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 fundamentally changed the way we interact with and engage in commerce. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders leave businesses and cities wondering how future economic activity moves forward. The reduction in face-to-face interactions creates an impetus to understand how social interactivity influences economic efficiency and rates of innovation. Here, we create a measure of the degree to which a workforce engages in social interactions, analyzing its relationships to economic innovation and efficiency. We do this by decomposing U.S. occupations into individual work activities, determining which of those activities are associated with face-to-face interactions. We then re-aggregate the labor forces of U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) into a metric of urban social interactiveness. Using a novel measure of urbanized area, we then calculate each MSA’s density of social work activities. We find that our metric of urban socialness is positively correlated with a city’s per worker patent production. Furthermore, we use our set of social work activities to reaggregate the workforces of U.S. industries into a metric of industry social interactivness, finding that this measure scales superlinearly with an industry’s per worker GDP. Together, the results suggest that social interaction among workers is an important driver of both a city’s rate of invention and an industry’s economic efficiency. Finally, we briefly highlight analogies between cities and stars and discuss their potential to guide further research, vis-à-vis the density of social interactions “igniting” a city or industry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
JournalUrban Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • COVID-19
  • economic impact
  • innovation
  • labor dynamics
  • sociality
  • urban density

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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