friends vs. spouses in influence

After reading the Fowler/Christakis paper on networks and obesity, a student asked why it was that friends had a stronger influence on spouses. In other words, if we believe the F&C paper, they report that your friends (57%) are more likely to transmit obesity than your spouse (37%) (see page 370).

This might be interpreted in two ways. First, it might be seen as a counter argument. This might really indicate that homophily is at work. We probably select spouses for some traits that are not self-similar. While we choose friends mainly on self-similarity of leisure and consumption (e.g, diet and exercise). Second, there might be an explanation based on transmission. We choose friends because we want them to influence us, while spouses are (supposed?) to accept us.

Your thoughts?

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Written by fabiorojas

December 20, 2013 at 12:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. Been awhile since I read the paper, but how much can be explained by same-sex friend groups? Much higher rates of obesity among males.


    Scott Dolan

    December 20, 2013 at 12:45 am

  2. Speculating about why estimates of two unidentified quantities are different seems superfluous.


    Cosma Shalizi

    December 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

  3. No speculation until causation is definitively disentangled? Social science would be pretty content-less by that rule.

    I think the mechanism behind the spouse-friend difference they were proposing in that paper is a gendered transmission of body norms: people mostly look to same-sex alters to see how their bodies should look,not their different sex spouse (at least in Framingham, MA).


    a sociologist

    December 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

  4. […] Saturday, Andrew Gelman responded to a post about a discussion in my social network analysis course. In that post, my student asked about different strengths of a network effect reported in a paper. […]


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