Three Essays On The Influences Of The Social Environment On Behavior: Findings From Sub-Saharan Africa

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My research advances our sociological understanding of when and why Africans feel better or worse about their standard of living, what role peers play in decision-making, and challenges core assumptions about relative deprivation and subjective wellbeing. First, analyzing quasi-experimental data collected from northern Kenya, I demonstrate that peer monitoring by other respondents shapes respondents' choices between cash and food transfers. I interpret the increased likelihood of treated respondents choosing food rather than cash to indicate that in this area, where food is shared but cash may not, being monitored acts as a framing effect that encourages compliance with sharingnorms. Second, examining subjective wellbeing for ten sub-Saharan countries, I find that institutional attributes not commonly considered, such as the level of crime, strongly affect the reported wellbeing of respondents. Relatedly, economic inequality within spatially-constructed reference groups matters. The positive impact of an increase in economic wellbeing on subjective wellbeing is larger in higher inequality areas relative to lower inequality areas. Third, the influence of reference groups' economic status on subjective wellbeing is highly sensitive to reference group construction. Using micro-level data from rural Ghana, I find improvements to the economic status of spatially-constructed reference groups result in relative deprivation. Yet, utilizing reference groups constructed from social network data on gift-receipt or trust yields more complex findings. Respondents' subjective economic welfare improves when their social networks' assets increase and expenditures decrease. That is, respondents feel better when their social networks are wealthy but thrifty, potentially indicating that respondents hope to draw on their social networks in time of need.
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subjective wellbeing; reference groups; sub-Saharan Africa
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Morgan, Stephen L.
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Barrett, Christopher
Sanyal, Paromita
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Ph. D., Sociology
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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