, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 369–383 | Cite as

Learning in social networks and contraceptive choice

Fertility and Contraception


A puzzling observation in the diffusion of modern fertility control is the persistent diversity in contraceptive practices across communities or social strata. I propose a model of “learning in social networks” to explain this diversity with the random dynamics of word-of-mouth communication. Women are uncertain about the merits of modern contraception and estimate the different qualities of available methods based on imprecise information from network partners. Their contraceptive choices are determined by this estimate and by private knowledge about one s personal characteristics. This process of social learning leads to path-dependent adoption of fertility control within, and diversity in contraceptive practices across villages or social strata.


Social Network Contraceptive Method Fertility Control Contraceptive User Social Stratum 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arthur, W.B. 1989. “Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, And Lock-In By Historical Small Events.” Economic Journal 99:116–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arthur, W.B., Y.M. Ermoliev, and Y.M. Kaniovski. 1986. “Strong Laws for a Class of Path Dependent Urn Processes.” Pp. 287–300 in Procedures of the International Conference on Stochastic Optimization, Kiev 1984. Lecture Notes in Control and Info Sciences 81, edited by A. Arkin, A. Shiryayev, and R. Wets. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  3. Arthur, W.B. 1988. “Nonlinear Adaptive Processes of Growth With General Increments: Attainable and Unattainable Components of Terminal Set.” IIASA Working Paper No. 88-86.Google Scholar
  4. Arthur, W.B. and D.A. Lane. 1993. “Information Contagion.” Economic Dynamics and Structural Change 4(1): 81–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Banerjee, A.V. 1992. “A Simple Model of Herd Behavior.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107(3):797–817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bikhchandani, S., D. Hirshleifer, and I. Welch. 1992. “A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change as Informational Cascades.” Journal of Political Economy 100(5):992–1026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Camerer, C. 1995. “Individual Decision Making.” Pp. 587–673 in Handbook of Experimental Economics, edited by J.H. Kagel and A.E. Roth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Ceci, S.J. and J.K. Liker. 1986. “A Day at the Races: A Study of IQ, Expertise, and Cognitive Complexity.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 115(3):255–66.Google Scholar
  9. Chomitz, K.M. and N. Birdsall. 1991. “Incentives for Small Families: Concepts and Issues.” Pp. 309–39 in Proceedings of the World Bank Annual Conference on Development Economics, edited by S. Fischer, D. deTray, and S. Shah. New York: World Bank.Google Scholar
  10. Cleland, J. and C. Wilson. 1987. “Demand Theories Of The Fertility Transition: An Iconoclastic View.” Population Studies 41(1):5–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coale, A.J. and S.C. Watkins. 1986. The Decline of Fertility in Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. DaVanzo, J., D. Roboussin, E. Starbird, B.A. Tan, and S.A. Hadi. 1989. “Contraceptive Method Switching Over Women’s Reproductive Careers: Evidence From Malaysian Life History Data.” Journal of Biosocial Science 11:S95–116.Google Scholar
  13. David, P.A. 1985. “Clio and the Economics of Querty.” American Economic Review 75:332–37.Google Scholar
  14. Dosi, G., Y.M. Ermoliev, and Y.M. Kaniovski. 1994. “Generalized Urn Schemes And Technological Dynamics.” Journal of Mathematical Economics 23:1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Easterlin, R.A. and E. Crimmins. 1985. The Fertility Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. Ellison, G. and D. Fudenberg. 1995. “Word-of-Mouth Communication and Social Learning.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 110(1):93–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Entwisle, B., R.D. Rindfuss, D.K. Guilkey, A. Chamratrithirong, S.R. Curran, and Y. Sawangdee. 1996. “Community and Contraceptive Choice In Rural Thailand: A Case Study of Nang Rong.” Demography 33:1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Feller, W. 1971. An Introduction to Probability Theory and Its Applications, Vol. 2. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  19. Fiske, S.T. and S.E. Taylor. 1991. Social Cognition. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  20. Foster, A.D. and M.R. Rosenzweig. 1995. “Learning by Doing and Learning From Others: Human Capital and Technical Change in Agriculture.” Journal of Political Economy 103(6): 1176–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Granovetter, M.S. 1973. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology 73(6): 1361–80.Google Scholar
  22. Grether, D.M. 1980. “Bayes Rule as a Descriptive Model: The Representativeness Heuristic.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 95:537–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hammel, E.A. 1990. “A Theory of Culture for Demography.” Population and Development Review 16(3):455–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hill, B.M., D. Lane, and W. Sudderth. 1980. “A Strong Law for Some Generalized Urn Processes.” Annals of Probability 8(2):214–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Holland, J.H., K.J. Holyoak, R.E. Nisbett, and P.R. Thagard. 1986. Induction: Processes of Inference, Learning, and Discovery. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Knodel, J., A. Chamratrithirong, and N. Debavalya. 1987. Thailand’s Reproductive Revolution: Rapid Fertility Decline in a Third World Setting. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  27. Kohler, H.-P. 1997. “Fertility Decline as a Coordination Problem.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  28. Lee, S.-B. 1977. “System Effects on Family Planning Innovativeness in Korean Villages.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Population Planning Program, University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  29. Lesthaeghe, R.J. 1977. The Decline of Belgian Fertility, 1800–1970. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Livi-Bacci, M. 1986. “Social Group Forerunners of Fertility Control in Europe.” Pp. 182–200 in The Decline of Fertility in Europe, edited by A.J. Coale and S.C. Watkins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  31. MacCorquodale, D.W. and T.W. Pullum. 1974. “A Mathematical Model for Determining Effectiveness of Family Planning Clinics.” Studies in Family Planning 5(7):232–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Maddala, G.S. 1983. Limited-Dependent and Qualitative Variables in Econometrics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Manski, C. F. 1993. “Dynamic Choice in Social Settings.” Journal of Econometrics 58:121–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Manski, C. F. 1995. Identification Problems in the Social Sciences. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  35. McFadden, D.L. 1981. “Econometric Models of Probabilistic Choice.” Pp. 198–272 in Structural Analysis of Discrete Data With Econometric Application, edited by C.F. Manski and D.L. McFadden. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  36. McFadden, D.L. and K.E. Train. 1995. “Consumers’ Evaluation of New Products: Learning From Self and Others.” Journal of Political Economy 104(4):683–703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Montgomery, M.R. and J.B. Casterline. 1993. “The Diffusion of Fertility Control in Taiwan: Evidence From Pooled Cross-Section Time-Series Models.” Population Studies 47(3):457–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. — 1996. “Social Influence, Social Learning and New Models of Fertility.” Population and Development Review 22:SI51–75.Google Scholar
  39. Munshi, K.D. 1996. “Farmers as Econometricians: Social Learning and Technology Diffusion in the Indian Green Revolution.” Mimeographed document, Department of Economics, Boston University.Google Scholar
  40. Pollak, R.A. and S.C. Watkins. 1993. “Cultural and Economic Approaches to Fertility: Proper Marriage or Mesaliance?” Population and Development Review 19(3):467–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Renshaw, E. 1990. Modelling Biological Populations in Space and Time. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Rogers, E.M. 1995. Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  43. Rogers, E.M. and D.L. Kincaid. 1981. Communication Networks: Toward a New Paradigm for Research. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  44. Rogers, E.M., H.J. Park, K.-K. Chung, S.-B. Lee, W.S. Puppa, and B.A. Doe. 1976. “Network Analysis of the Diffusion of Family Planning Innovations Over Time in Korean Villages: The Role of Mothers’ Clubs in Communication for Group Transformation in Development.” Pp. 253–76 in Communication for Group Transformation in Development, edited by G.C. Chu, S.A. Rahim, and D.L. Kincaid. Honolulu: East-West Center.Google Scholar
  45. Rosero-Bixby, L. and J.B. Casterline. 1993. “Modelling Diffusion Effects in Fertility Transition.” Population Studies 47(1): 147–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schaller, M. 1994. “The Role of Statistical Reasoning in the Formation, Preservation and Prevention of Group Stereotypes.” British Journal of Social Psychology 33:47–61.Google Scholar
  47. Tversky, A. and D. Kahneman. 1974. “Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.” Science 185:1124–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Watkins, S.C. 1990. “From Local to National Communities: The Transformation of Demographic Regimes in Western Europe, 1870–1960.” Population and Development Review 16(2):241–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. — 1991. “Market, States, Nations and Bedrooms in Western Europe, 1870–1960.” Pp. 262–79 in Macro-Micro Linkages in Sociology, edited by J. Huber. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  50. Watkins, S.C, N. Ruthenberg, and D. Wilkinson. 1995. “Orderly Theories, Disorderly Women.” Unpublished working paper, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  51. Watkins, S.C, A. R. Spector, and A. Goldstein. 1993. “Family Patterns Among Jewish and Italien Women in the United States.” Unpublished manuscript, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Demographic ResearchRostockGermany

Personalised recommendations