Social network- and community-level influences on contraceptive use: evidence from rural Poland

Proc Biol Sci. 2015 May 22;282(1807):20150398. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0398.


The diffusion of 'modern' contraceptives-as a proxy for the spread of low-fertility norms-has long interested researchers wishing to understand global fertility decline. A fundamental question is how local cultural norms and other people's behaviour influence the probability of contraceptive use, independent of women's socioeconomic and life-history characteristics. However, few studies have combined data at individual, social network and community levels to simultaneously capture multiple levels of influence. Fewer still have tested if the same predictors matter for different contraceptive types. Here, we use new data from 22 high-fertility communities in Poland to compare predictors of the use of (i) any contraceptives-a proxy for the decision to control fertility-with those of (ii) 'artificial' contraceptives-a subset of more culturally taboo methods. We find that the contraceptive behaviour of friends and family is more influential than are women's own characteristics and that community level characteristics additionally influence contraceptive use. Highly educated neighbours accelerate women's contraceptive use overall, but not their artificial method use. Highly religious neighbours slow women's artificial method use, but not their contraceptive use overall. Our results highlight different dimensions of sociocultural influence on contraceptive diffusion and suggest that these may be more influential than are individual characteristics. A comparative multilevel framework is needed to understand these dynamics.

Keywords: community effects; contraception; cultural evolution; fertility decline; social networks; social transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Contraception Behavior / ethnology
  • Contraception Behavior / psychology*
  • Contraceptive Agents, Female*
  • Demography
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Natural Family Planning Methods / statistics & numerical data
  • Poland
  • Religion
  • Rural Population
  • Social Support*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Contraceptive Agents, Female