Social Networks and Sexual Activity among Unmarried Young Women: The Role of School Environment

Michelle Poulin, Brown University

This paper examines the links between schooling, sexual activity and social networks among unmarried women (aged 15-24) in rural Malawi. Using survey and qualitative data from a sub-set (N=258) of the 2004 youth sample as part of the Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project , the survey data show that school-going girls report lower levels of sexual activity than do out-of-school girls, even after controlling for age, wealth and region. Yet AIDS-related knowledge does not differ, suggesting that behavioral differences are due not to the content of school instruction, but to individual and social factors tied to school attendance. School-going and non-going girls have social network characteristics that differ; half of school-goers’ networks consist of other school-going girls, while a majority of non-goers’ consist of other non-goers (52% vs. 84%, respectively). These salient differences may provide protection from infection amongst school-attendees.

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Presented in Session 162: The Context and History of Adolescent Sexual Behavior Trends