20 Nov 2023
 | 20 Nov 2023

The Pareto effect in tipping social networks: from minority to majority

Jordan Paul Everall, Jonathan F. Donges, and Ilona M. Otto

Abstract. How do social networks tip? A popular theory is that a small minority can affect network, or population wide change. This effect is roughly consistent with the properties of the Pareto principle, a semi-quantitative law which suggests that in many systems, 80 % of effects are produced by only 20 % of the causes. In the context of the transition to net-zero emissions, this vital 20 % can be a critical instigator of social tipping, a process which can rapidly accelerate social norm change. In this work, we ask whether the Pareto effect can be observed in social systems by conducting a literature review with a focus on social norm diffusion and complex contagion on social networks. By collecting simulation and empirical results of social tipping events over a wide disciplinary, and parametric space, we are able to see the existence of shared behaviour across studies. Based on a compiled dataset, we show general support for the existence of a tipping point which occurs at around 25 % of the total population in susceptible social systems. Around this critical mass, there is a high likelihood of a social tipping event, where a large minority is then quickly “tipped”. Additionally, we were able to show a range of critical masses where social tipping is possible, these values lie roughly between 10 % and 45 %. Finally, we also provide practical advice for facilitating norm changes under uncertainty, difficult social norm transitions, and social groups resistant to change.

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Jordan Paul Everall, Jonathan F. Donges, and Ilona M. Otto

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2241', Sibel Eker, 08 Feb 2024
    • AC2: 'Reply on CC1', Jordan Everall, 03 Jun 2024
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2241', Anonymous Referee #1, 15 Apr 2024
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Jordan Everall, 03 Jun 2024
Jordan Paul Everall, Jonathan F. Donges, and Ilona M. Otto
Jordan Paul Everall, Jonathan F. Donges, and Ilona M. Otto


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Short summary
A social tipping process is a rapid, large change in society, and can be started by few people. Does the 80/20 rule apply here? We see if this is the case for human social groups. We find that if so then it occurs when around 25 % of people engage. Tipping seems generally possible in the range of around 10 % to 40 % of the population, with most systems having tipped by the 40 % mark. When people don't change so easily, trusting groups of friends and housemates can help convince wayward friends.