Information about life-and-death matters such as ways to attain good health or prevent disease is often diffused through informal social networks. Network-based strategies and competencies are probably even more important in poor societies with limited means of communication and less effective formal structures than in developed economies. In this chapter, the authors explore the nature of and impacts of informal social networks in reducing fertility and HIV infection in Kenya and Malawi, using longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data that they and their collaborators have been collecting and analyzing for more than a decade. They find that social networks and informal interactions are relevant for many different health domains in developing countries. Their research shows that network effects may be nonlinear, that there may be multiple equilibria, and that networks may either reinforce the status quo or help diffuse new options and behaviors. They show that both the context (e.g., the degree of market development) and the density of networks matter (possibly interactively), as well as the endogeneity of network partners. Their work demonstrates that multiple approaches, including both qualitative and quantitative analyses, can be informative in providing greater understanding of what networks do and how they function.
General Overview of Survey Data and Contexts
Social Networks and Life--The Diffusion of Family Planning
Social Networks and Mortality and Death--The Diffusion of Worry About HIV/AIDS