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Modeling Unobserved Heterogeneity in Social Networks with the Frailty Exponential Random Graph Model

  • Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier (a1), Dino P. Christenson (a2) and Jason W. Morgan (a3) (a4)
Abstract

In the study of social processes, the presence of unobserved heterogeneity is a regular concern. It should be particularly worrisome for the statistical analysis of networks, given the complex dependencies that shape network formation combined with the restrictive assumptions of related models. In this paper, we demonstrate the importance of explicitly accounting for unobserved heterogeneity in exponential random graph models (ERGM) with a Monte Carlo analysis and two applications that have played an important role in the networks literature. Overall, these analyses show that failing to account for unobserved heterogeneity can have a significant impact on inferences about network formation. The proposed frailty extension to the ERGM (FERGM) generally outperforms the ERGM in these cases, and does so by relatively large margins. Moreover, our novel multilevel estimation strategy has the advantage of avoiding the problem of degeneration that plagues the standard MCMC-MLE approach.

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Corresponding author
* Email: steffensmeier.2@osu.edu
Footnotes
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Authors’ note: This research was supported by P2C-HD058484 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development awarded to the Ohio State University Institute for Population Research, the National Science Foundation’s Methodology, Measurement, and Statistics Program and Political Science Program Awards #1528739 & #1528705, as well the Ohio Supercomputer Center. Earlier versions of this paper were presented in 2014 at the Summer Methods Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology at the University of Georgia and the Seventh Annual Political Networks Conference at McGill University. Replication data for this study are available on the Harvard Dataverse (Box-Steffensmeier, Christenson, and Morgan 2017).

Contributing Editor: R. Michael Alvarez

Footnotes
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