Summer 2012 issue 14

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Bulletin Issue 14 Front CoverSocial interactions, such as between friends, family members or colleagues, can be a powerful influence on many of the outcomes that matter in public policy. The focus of this issue of Research in Public Policy is on the role played by social interactions – or ‘network effects’ – in a number of policy settings.

The first four articles summarise research presented at a workshop on social influences on charitable giving – looking at how individuals’ donations are affected by the behaviour of other people around them. Two articles focus on behaviour within networks of givers, looking at the importance of peer effects and publicity on giving, while the other two consider how charitable giving is affected by people’s wider non-giving networks – their immediate social networks (such as friendships) as well as the ethnic composition of the communities in which they live. The finding from Canada that growing diversity is associated with lower levels of giving suggests a number of potential challenges for policy-makers and practitioners.

The next two articles consider the importance of social networks (such those accessed by having attended an elite university) in professional appointments – to the judiciary and to company boards. They examine whether well connected individuals are likely to be more successful. This is particularly relevant at a time when some senior executives have been defending their high levels of pay by appealing to the independence of board members, and when increasing diversity in the top professions has been on the policy agenda.

The final two articles on social interactions consider how they might influence aspirations to continue in education and to engage in risky behaviour such as smoking. The first article analyses data on adolescent friendship networks and finds that young people’s educational aspirations do appear to be influenced by good friends. The second looks at how peer effects, together with altruistic concerns about friends or family can lead to a trade-off: family members might influence each other to smoke cigarettes, but at the same time concerns about harm to others through passive smoking might decrease the amount they smoke.

The final article in this issue looks at a policy question that links to the current debate around the effects of competition in healthcare. It summarises new evidence on hospital mergers and concludes that the consolidation of English acute hospitals over the late 1990s and early 2000s brought few benefits.

Helen Simpson and Sarah Smith

Download the complete publication 'Research in Public Policy: Issue 14' (PDF, 1,176kB)