Estimating Contextual Effects from Ego Network Data
Smith, Jeffrey A. Smith and G. Robin Gauthier 2020. “Estimating Contextual Effects from Ego Network Data”. Sociological Methodology.
Network concepts are often used to characterize the features of a social context. For example, past work has asked if individuals in more socially cohesive neighborhoods have better mental health outcomes. Despite the ubiquity of use, it is relatively rare for contextual studies to use the methods of network analysis. This is the case, in part, because network data are difficult to collect, requiring information on all ties between all actors. In this article the authors ask whether it is possible to avoid such heavy data collection while still retaining the best features of a contextual-network study. The basic idea is to apply network sampling to the problem of contextual models, in which one uses sampled ego network data to infer the network features of each context and then uses the inferred network features as second-level predictors in a hierarchical linear model. The authors test the validity of this idea in the case of network cohesion. Using two complete data sets as a test, the authors find that ego network data are sufficient to capture the relationship between cohesion and important outcomes, such as attachment and deviance. The hope, going forward, is that researchers will find it easier to incorporate holistic network measures into traditional regression models.