Learning from Neighbors: Social Learning about Child Feeding during Diarrheal Episodes

Kirk Dearden, Brigham Young University
Lant Pritchett, Harvard University and World Bank Group
Jeff Brown, Harvard University

Population-level behavior change requires broad-based information sharing. Using Demographic and Health Surveys from Bolivia and Madagascar, we examine mothers' knowledge about child's fluid intake during diarrhea. Controlling for sociodemographic covariates, we find the fraction of a woman's neighbors that answers correctly substantially raises the likelihood that the woman herself will also respond correctly. In Madagascar, if the fraction of other women responding correctly increases by 10%, the probability that a woman living in that cluster also answers correctly is 3% higher, an effect equivalent to the impact of nearly 3 years of schooling. Two pieces of evidence strongly suggest direct social learning. First, in urban areas, the impact is much smaller (and insignificant in Bolivia). Second, the cluster knowledge term remains significant after adjusting for all other cluster average characteristics. Population-level improvements in health practices should be based on explicit efforts to encourage social learning and the diffusion of information.

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Presented in Session 151: Community and Contextual Effects on Health and Mortality II