Peer Effects in Sexual Initiation: Separating Demand and Supply Mechanisms

64 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2012

See all articles by Seth Richards-Shubik

Seth Richards-Shubik

Lehigh University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: January 17, 2012


Most work on social interactions studies a single, composite effect of interactions within a group. Yet in the case of sexual initiation, there are two distinct social mechanisms - peer-group norms and partner availability with separate effects and different potential interventions. Here I develop an equilibrium search and matching model for first sexual partners that specifies distinct roles for these two mechanisms as part of demand and supply. I estimate the model using a national sample of high school students, with data over time on individual virginity status. The results indicate that peer-group norms have a large effect on the timing of sexual initiation for both boys and girls. Changes in opposite-gender search behavior (i.e., partner availability) also have a large impact on initiation rates for boys, but not for girls. The existence of a composite effect of social interactions is also confirmed using a standard method: instrumental variables estimation of linear regressions.

Keywords: social interaction models, mechanisms, sexual activity, youth, structural estimation

JEL Classification: C31, C33, J13

Suggested Citation

Richards-Shubik, Seth, Peer Effects in Sexual Initiation: Separating Demand and Supply Mechanisms (January 17, 2012). PIER Working Paper No. 12-015, Available at SSRN: or

Seth Richards-Shubik (Contact Author)

Lehigh University - Department of Economics ( email )

620 Taylor Street
Bethlehem, PA 18015
United States


National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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