Chains of Affection: The Structure of Adolescent Romantic and Sexual Networks

Bearman, Peter Shawn; Moody, James; Stovel, Katherine

Recognizing the actual structure of sexual networks is critical for modeling the potential for disease transmission, if disease is spread via sexual contact. This article reports the structure of an adolescent romantic and sexual network in a population of over 800 adolescents residing in a mid-sized town in the mid-western United States. Precise images and measures of network characteristics are derived from reports of relationships that occurred over a period of eighteen months between 1993 and 1995. We compare the structural characteristics of the observed network to simulated networks governed by similar constraints on the distribution of ties, and show that the observed structures differ radically from the randomly generated networks. Specifically, we find that real sexual and romantic networks are characterized by much longer contact chains and far fewer cycles. We then identify a set of micro-mechanisms that generates networks with similar structural features to the observed network. Implications for disease transmission dynamics and social policy are explored.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
ISERP Working Papers, 02-04
Published Here
August 23, 2010