Beyond Individual-Level Theorizing in Social Norms Research: How Collective Norms and Media Access Affect Adolescents' Use of Contraception

Erica Sedlander, Rajiv N. Rimal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Purpose: The role of mass media in promoting social norms surrounding contraceptive use among adolescents in developing countries has not received much attention. Hence, program planners have little guidance on how to design media messages that take advantage of existing social norms in promoting contraceptive use. Methods: We analyzed data from the Demographic and Health Surveys in Ethiopia and Tanzania, restricting our sample to 15- to 24 year-old adolescents (N = 6,230 and N = 5,138, respectively). We proposed and tested the hypotheses that collective norms around contraception use would be associated with individual contraception use in that area and that this relationship would be stronger when media use is low, than when media use is high. Logistic regressions were run to predict individual-level contraception use from collective norms for contraception use, media use, and their interaction, controlling for age, urban versus rural location, marital status, wealth, and education, taking into account intraclass correlations within clusters. Results: Collective norms were associated with individual contraception use in both samples. Media use attenuated the association between collective norms and contraception use in Ethiopia but not in Tanzania. (β = −.22, p = < .01 in Ethiopia and β = −.08, p = .10 in Tanzania). Conclusions: Mass media can serve as external agents of change to attenuate the impact of collective norms on individual behavior. A deeper examination of how and why media use attenuates the relationship between collective norms and individual contraception use in some subpopulations more than others is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S31-S36
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent health
  • Collective norms
  • Contraceptive use
  • Mass media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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