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Action, Function, & Structure; Interpreting Network Effects on Behavior in Rural Malawi


  • Guy Stecklov

    (Agricultural and Development Economics Division, Food and Agriculture Organization)

  • Alejandro Alexander Weinreb

    (Agricultural and Development Economics Division, Food and Agriculture Organization)


A long series of ethnographic and sociological studies on kinship systems and information flows in developing societies has portrayed networks as varying structurally, serving multiple functions, and expressing themselves in different types of interaction. Little of this earlier work has informed empirical research in demography or development-related research. In stead, the latter operationalize social networks in relatively narrow ways, allowing for little overlap between multiple networks, and focusing on a subset of potential causal mechanisms. In an effort to pull the empirical literature closer to its qualitative forbearer, we use data from the Malawi Diffusion and Ideation Change Project to test how conversation networks and transfer networks overlap. We offer some predictions regarding how these overlapping networks might individually or jointly influence distinct outcome including ownership of livestock, planning innovative crops and HIV testing. Our sample of women from Malawi, interviewed in 3 rounds across a 6-year period, also enables us to question the inter-temporal stability of network effects. Our findings highlight: (a) how networks based on different actions appear nonetheless consistent with diverse behavioral outcomes; (b) how there is relatively little overlap between conversational and transfer networks; and (c) how there is considerable instability in temporal effects of conversational networks.

Suggested Citation

  • Guy Stecklov & Alejandro Alexander Weinreb, 2007. "Action, Function, & Structure; Interpreting Network Effects on Behavior in Rural Malawi," Working Papers 07-12, Agricultural and Development Economics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO - ESA).
  • Handle: RePEc:fao:wpaper:0712

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jere Behrman & Hans-Peter Kohler & Susan Watkins, 2002. "Social networks and changes in contraceptive use over time: Evidence from a longitudinal study in rural Kenya," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 39(4), pages 713-738, November.
    2. Ethan Ligon & Jonathan P. Thomas & Tim Worrall, 2002. "Informal Insurance Arrangements with Limited Commitment: Theory and Evidence from Village Economies," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 209-244.
    3. Hoddinott, John, 1992. "Rotten Kids or Manipulative Parents: Are Children Old Age Security in Western Kenya?," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(3), pages 545-565, April.
    4. Townsend, Robert M, 1994. "Risk and Insurance in Village India," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(3), pages 539-591, May.
    5. Mike Mathambo Mtika, 2000. "Social and cultural relations in economic action: the embeddedness of food security in rural Malawi amidst the AIDS epidemic," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 32(2), pages 345-360, February.
    6. Hans-Peter Kohler & Jere Behrman & Susan Watkins, 2001. "The density of social networks and fertility decisions: evidence from south nyanza district, kenya," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 38(1), pages 43-58, February.
    7. Rosenzweig, Mark R & Stark, Oded, 1989. "Consumption Smoothing, Migration, and Marriage: Evidence from Rural India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(4), pages 905-926, August.
    8. Deaton, Angus, 1992. "Understanding Consumption," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198288244.
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    More about this item


    Agricultural innovation; social networks; risk diversification; HIV testing.;

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty
    • D85 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Network Formation

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