Eliminating poverty through social mobility promotes cooperation in social dilemmas


Numerous social problems can be directly related to poverty, and its elimination is thus often declared a grand challenge in modern human societies. Nevertheless, it is difficult to shake the belief that certain fractions of the population would like to see it maintained to ensure the availability of cheap workforce and its readiness to do the hardest jobs, as well as to keep the prices of natural resources in the afflicted countries as low as possible.

Here we show, however, that by allowing low-income individuals to escape poverty, either by means of mobility to pursue potential opportunities in remote areas or by ending dilemmas through social learning in local areas, greatly increases cooperation and thus has the potential to raise the social capital. In particular, we find that mobility of low-income individuals can promote cooperation when the per capita mobility rate is as low as 10−3 in the order of magnitude as long as network reciprocity is still active.

This synergy between network reciprocity and mobility is due to the emergence of large cooperative clusters that are in this size impossible without mobility. Moreover, we find that the mobility of defectors undermines cooperation, but only a few defectors actually move as they are typically well off when surrounded by cooperators. On the contrary, the higher the cooperation level, the greater the proportion of low-income cooperator that move.

Our research thus shows that by providing ways out of poverty for individuals can raise whole societies out of economic gridlocks by elevating cooperation levels.

W.-J. Li, Z. Chen, K.-Z. Jin, L. Li, L. Yuan, L.-L. Jiang, M. Perc, J. Kurths, Eliminating poverty through social mobility promotes cooperation in social dilemmas, Chaos, Solitons & Fractals 156 (2022) 111845