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Social Networks, HIV/AIDS and Risk Perceptions

  • Jere Behrman


    (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Hans-Peter Kohler


    (Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Susan C. Watkins


    (Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania)

Understanding the determinants of individuals’ perceptions of their risk of becoming infected with HIV and their perceptions of acceptable strategies of prevention is an essential step towards curtailing the spread of this disease. We focus in this paper on learning and decision-making about AIDS in the context of high uncertainty about the disease and appropriate behavioral responses, and we argue that social interaction is an important determinant of risk perceptions and the acceptability of behavioral change. Using longitudinal survey data from rural Kenya and Malawi, we test this hypothesis. We investigate whether social interactions—and especially the extent to which social network partners perceive themselves to be at risk –exert causal influences on respondents’ risk perceptions and on one approach to prevention, spousal communication about the threat of AIDS to the couple and their children. The study explicitly allows for the possibility that important characteristics, such as unobserved preferences or community characteristics, determine not only the outcomes of interest but also the size and composition of networks. The most important empirical result is that social networks have significant and substantial effects on risk perception and the adoption of new behaviors even after controlling for unobserved factors.

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Paper provided by Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania in its series PIER Working Paper Archive with number 03-007.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: 18 Feb 2003
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:pen:papers:03-007
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  1. Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Psychology and Economics," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt8jd5z5j2, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  2. Mark Rosenzweig & Andrew D. Foster, . "Learning by Doing and Learning from Others: Human Capital and Technical Change in Agriculture," Home Pages _068, University of Pennsylvania.
  3. Charles F. Manski, 2000. "Economic Analysis of Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 7580, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Arellano, Manuel & Honore, Bo, 2001. "Panel data models: some recent developments," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 53, pages 3229-3296 Elsevier.
  5. Hans-Peter Kohler & Jere R. Behrman & Susan Cotts Watkins, 1999. "The structure of social networks and fertility decisions: evidence from S. Nyanza District, Kenya," MPIDR Working Papers WP-1999-005, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
  6. Bo E. Honoré & Ekaterini Kyriazidou, 2000. "Panel Data Discrete Choice Models with Lagged Dependent Variables," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(4), pages 839-874, July.
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