Social Networks and Causal Inference

  • Tyler J. VanderWeeleEmail author
  • Weihua An
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


This chapter reviews theoretical developments and empirical studies related to causal inference on social networks from both experimental and observational studies. Discussion is given to the effect of experimental interventions on outcomes and behaviors and how these effects relate to the presence of social ties, the position of individuals within the network, and the underlying structure and properties of the network. The effects of such experimental interventions on changing the network structure itself and potential feedback between behaviors and network changes are also discussed. With observational data, correlations in behavior or outcomes between individuals with network ties may be due to social influence, homophily, or environmental confounding. With cross-sectional data these three sources of correlation cannot be distinguished. Methods employing longitudinal observational data that can help distinguish between social influence, homophily, and environmental confounding are described, along with their limitations. Proposals are made regarding future research directions and methodological developments that would help put causal inference on social networks on a firmer theoretical footing.


Social Network Social Influence Causal Inference Network Effect Social Network Data 
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.



The authors thank Stephen Morgan for helpful comments. This work was supported by NIH grant ES017876.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Epidemiology and BiostatisticsHarvard UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Departments of Sociology and StatisticsIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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