Working Papers

Why Weak Ties’ Help and Strong Ties’ Don’t

Reconsidering Why Tie Strength Matters


If jobholders are more motivated to help jobseekers to whom they are strongly tied rather than those to whom they are weakly tied, why do jobholders so often help acquaintances and strangers instead of kin and friends? The strength-of-weak-ties theory holds that weak ties are more likely to be conduits for information and influence that best leads to jobs. Recent research, however, calls into question the theory’s key assumption that this is because strong ties cannot act as bridges (they can). Drawing from in-depth interviews with 146 blue- and white-collar workers at a large public sector employer, in this paper I offer an alternative explanation for why weak ties matter, one rooted in cognitive and affective processes: Jobholders often know too much about their close associates’ flaws and so assess the risks of making a bad match as high. They also worry more about the implications of close associates’ failures for their own reputations.