An Experimental Study of Homophily in the Adoption of Health Behavior

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How does the composition of a population affect the adoption of health behaviors and innovations? Homophily—similarity of social contacts—can increase dyadic-level influence, but it can also force less healthy individuals to interact primarily with one another, thereby excluding them from interactions with healthier, more influential, early adopters. As a result, an important network-level effect of homophily is that the people who are most in need of a health innovation may be among the least likely to adopt it. Despite the importance of this thesis, confounding factors in observational data have made it difficult to test empirically. We report results from a controlled experimental study on the spread of a health innovation through fixed social networks in which the level of homophily was independently varied. We found that homophily significantly increased overall adoption of a new health behavior, especially among those most in need of it.

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