How Secret-Keeping Affects Perceived Network Segregation and Population Estimates

Sarah K. Cowan, University of California, Berkeley

Americans perceive deep segregation within their social networks. Much of this segregation is due to actual segregation within networks – within families, workplaces, neighborhoods and volunteer associations. Some of this perceived segregation is due to secret-keeping. I document the diffusion of information two pieces of information, one concealable and stigmatized – an abortion – and one concealable and primarily not stigmatized – a miscarriage. I show that the abortion secret travels more slowly than the miscarriage secret. Further, the abortion secret is told to people who are already tolerant of abortion and consistently directed away from people who are intolerant. Hence, the intolerant are less likely to report knowing someone who has had an abortion and believe their network to be more segregated than it is. I then go on to show the implications for estimating population size and discuss the implications for attitudes.

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Presented in Session 69: Abortion