Fertility and Social Interaction: An Economic Perspective

By Hans-Peter Kohler | Go to book overview

3 The Density of Social Networks and Fertility Decisions: Evidence from South Nyanza District, Kenya

3.1 Introduction

Theories of demographic behavior that include interactions among individuals usually encompass two distinct social processes that affect contraceptive behavior. Social learning emphasizes that decisions about contraceptive adoption are subject to substantial uncertainty. Learning about other women's experiences through social interactions may reduce this uncertainty and thus may change the probability that a woman herself adopts contraception or reduces fertility (see Chapter 2). Social influence emphasizes normative influences on behavior. Social influence captures the fact that a woman's preferences for children may be influenced and altered by those with whom she interacts. Network partners may express their disapproval of a married woman believed to be using family planning by speculating that she cares about her looks because she seeks to attract other men. Alternatively, they may praise a woman believed to be using family planning for being a responsible mother, concerned about feeding, clothing and educating her children.

In this chapter we exploit variations in the structure of social networks to analyze the processes of social interactions in the adoption of modern contraception in South Nyanza District, Kenya. In particular, we investigate whether it is the content or the structure of social interactions that matters, and whether social learning or social influence is the dominant process through which social interactions affect fertility change.

This analytic distinction between social learning and social influence is significant for at least three reasons. First, it is relevant for our theoretical understanding of whether fertility preferences are fixed or endogenous in economic models of demographic behavior (Easterlin et al. 1980 ; Pollak and Watkins 1993). Second,

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