Network Formation Through a Gender Lens

I'm pleased to have found a working paper on gender and network theory - something rare and precious. I worked with women entrepreneurs in Africa and we explored the existing circles of friends, people at church, parents of other school children and family and how these could be used in developing their business.

This paper, Network formation through a gender lens; Insights from rural Nicaragua is by Nathalie Holvoet and Ben D'Exelle and was published in January this year. The researchers wanted to explore whether women's non-kin networks are more homogenous than men's non-kin networks. The idea is, the broader the network of contacts, the better the access one has to knowledge, resources - in general, to opportunities.

The researchers found that women tend to know fewer people and have fewer neighbour and friend relationships than men. In fact, there is a corelation between the number of children they have and the size of their network. So indeed, relative to men the networks of women offer fewer business opportunities. On the up side, the researchers observed a stronger clique formation among women than among men. They equate higher clique levels with greater trust, cooperative hbehaviours and norm compliance. However, by safeguarding existing social norms in may hamper social change that is required to improve the conditions of men and women.

The researchers found that the education of women exerts a positive influence on the formation of mixed-sex networks. The potential catalysts in increasing the strength of a network, they found, are higher educated women and women with more contacts with urban centers.

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