Adolescent Sexual Debut in Malawi: The Role of Peer Networks

Jinho Kim, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Peers’ sexual attitudes and behaviors have been found to be the single most important peer norms shaping adolescents’ sexual activity. However, in sub-Saharan Africa, characterized by relatively early age of marriage and high HIV prevalence, a strong link between marital aspirations and sexual activity implies that peers’ marital aspirations may also influence adolescents’ sexual activity. Using two waves of data from a school-based longitudinal survey (N=4,412) conducted in Malawi from 2011 to 2013, this study finds that peers’ marital aspirations are associated with an increased probability of females’ sexual debut, even after controlling for school fixed effects as well as an extensive set of individual-, family-, and peer-level controls. This study also suggests that the relationship between peers’ marital aspirations and sexual activity is moderated by age composition of the peer group, and popularity among peers can be positively or negatively associated with the probability that adolescents initiate sexual activity.

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Presented in Session 144: Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health: Causes and Consequences