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PLoS One. 2017 Aug 23;12(8):e0181494. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181494. eCollection 2017.

Social venue range and referral chain impact: Implications for the sampling of hidden communities.

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Department of Sociology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, United States of America.
Departments of Medicine & Public Health Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.



It has been argued that the success of respondent-driven sampling (RDS) in generating unbiased estimates for epidemiologic outcomes depends on participants' abilities to generate long referral chains. While this is thought to depend on the number of people participants know in the target population, this idea is rarely tested. Furthermore, little attention has been paid to the role of other aspects of social connectedness in recruitment, such as participants' involvement in local clubs and venues.


We examine whether the recruitment potential of young Black men who have sex with men (YBMSM) depends on (1) their social network size and (2) their affiliations with a variety of sex venues across geographic areas. We analyze data from a 2014 RDS study of 598 YBMSM on the south side of Chicago.


Both a participant's personal network size and the number of different types of sex venues with which he was affiliated were significantly positively associated with (1) the total number of recruits in the participant's prospective referral chains and (2) the lengths of those chains. However, only venue affiliation remain significantly associated with recruitment potential in the multivariate model.


The success of RDS in generating valid samples may depend more on recruiting participants who are involved in multiple venues within the community (i.e., their affiliation networks) than on recruiting those who have large personal social networks.

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