Assessment of Random Recruitment Assumption in Respondent-Driven Sampling in Egocentric Network Data*


One of the key assumptions in respondent-driven sampling (RDS) analysis, called “random selection assumption,” is that respondents randomly recruit their peers from their personal networks. The objective of this study was to verify this assumption in the empirical data of egocentric networks. Methods: We conducted an egocentric network study among young drug users in China, in which RDS was used to recruit this hard-to-reach population. If the random recruitment assumption holds, the RDS-estimated population proportions should be similar to the actual population proportions. Following this logic, we first calculated the population proportions of five visible variables (gender, age, education, marital status, and drug use mode) among the total drug-use alters from which the RDS sample was drawn, and then estimated the RDS-adjusted population proportions and their 95% confidence intervals in the RDS sample. Theoretically, if the random recruitment assumption holds, the 95% confidence intervals estimated in the RDS sample should include the population proportions calculated in the total drug-use alters. Results: The evaluation of the RDS sample indicated its success in reaching the convergence of RDS compositions and including a broad cross-section of the hidden population. Findings demonstrate that the random selection assumption holds for three group traits, but not for two others. Specifically, egos randomly recruited subjects in different age groups, marital status, or drug use modes from their network alters, but not in gender and education levels. Conclusions: This study demonstrates the occurrence of non-random recruitment, indicating that the recruitment of subjects in this RDS study was not completely at random. Future studies are needed to assess the extent to which the population proportion estimates can be biased when the violation of the assumption occurs in some group traits in RDS samples.

Share and Cite:

Liu, H. , Li, J. , Ha, T. and Li, J. (2012) Assessment of Random Recruitment Assumption in Respondent-Driven Sampling in Egocentric Network Data*. Social Networking, 1, 13-21. doi: 10.4236/sn.2012.12002.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] D. D. Heckathorn, “Respondent-Driven Sampling: A New Approach to the Study of Hidden Populations,” Social Problems, Vol. 44, No. 2, 1997, pp. 174-199. doi:10.2307/3096941
[2] E. Volz and D. D. Heckathorn, “Probability Based Estimation Theory for Respondent Driven Sampling,” Journal of Official Statistics, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2008, pp. 79-97.
[3] R. Magnani, K. Sabin, T. Saidel and D. Heckathorn, “Review of Sampling Hard-to-Reach and Hidden Populations for HIV Surveillance,” AIDS, Vol. 19, Suppl. 2, 2005, S67-S72. doi:10.1097/01.aids.0000172879.20628.e1
[4] W. T. Robinson, J. M. Risser, S. McGoy, A. B. Becker, H. Rehman, M. Jefferson, V. Griffin, M. Wolverton and S. Tortu, “Recruiting Injection Drug Users: A Three-Site Comparison of Results and Experiences with Respondent-Driven and Targeted Sampling Procedures,” Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 83, Suppl. 1, 2006, 29-38. doi:10.1007/s11524-006-9100-3
[5] C. McKnight, D. Des Jarlais, H. Bramson, L. Tower, A. S. Abdul-Quader, C. Nemeth and D. Heckathorn, “Respondent-Driven Sampling in a Study of Drug Users in New York City: Notes from the Field,” Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 83, Suppl. 1, 2006, 54-59. doi:10.1007/s11524-006-9102-1
[6] L. G. Johnston, M. Malekinejad, C. Kendall, I. M. Iuppa and G. W. Rutherford, “Implementation Challenges to Using Respondent-Driven Sampling Methodology for HIV Biological and Behavioral Surveillance: Field Experiences in International Settings,” AIDS and Behavior, Vol. 12, Suppl. 1, 2008, 131-141. doi:10.1007/s10461-008-9413-1
[7] C. Wejnert, “Social Network Analysis with Respondent- Driven Sampling Data: A Study of Racial Integration on Campus,” Social Networks, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2010, pp. 112- 124. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2009.09.002
[8] S. Goel and M. J. Salganik, “Respondent-Driven Sampling as Markov Chain Monte Carlo,” Statistics in Medicine, Vol. 28, No. 17, 2009, pp. 2202-2229. doi:10.1002/sim.3613
[9] J. C. Wang, R. S. Falck, L. N. Li, A. Rahman and R. G. Carlson, “Respondent-Driven Sampling in the Recruitment of Illicit Stimulant Drug Users in a Rural Setting: Findings and Technical Issues. Addictive Behaviors, Vol. 32, No. 5, 2007, pp. 924-937. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2006.06.031
[10] C. Wejnert and D. D. Heckathorn, “Web-Based Network Sampling: Efficiency and Efficacy of Respondent-Driven Sampling for Online Research,” Sociological Methods Research, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2008, pp. 105-134.
[11] R. Heimer, “Critical Issues and Further Questions about Respondent-Driven Sampling: Comment on Ramirez- Valles, et al. (2005),” AIDS and Behavior, Vol. 9, No. 4, 2005, pp. 403-408. doi:10.1007/s10461-005-9030-1
[12] M. J. Salganik and D. D. Heckathorn, “Sampling and Estimation in Hidden Populations Using Respondent- Driven Sampling. Sociological Methodology, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2004, pp. 193-239. doi:10.1111/j.0081-1750.2004.00152.x
[13] N. Koram, H. J. Liu, J. Li, J. Luo and J. Nield, “Role of Social Network Dimensions in the Transition to Injection Drug Use: Actions Speak Louder than Words,” AIDS and Behavior, Vol. 15, No. 7, 2011, pp. 1579-1588. doi:10.1007/s10461-011-9930-1
[14] H. J. Liu, T. J. Feng, H. Liu, H. C. Feng, Y. M. Cai, A. G. Rhodes and O. Grusky, “Egocentric Networks of Chinese Men Who Have Sex with Men: Network Components, Condom Use Norms and Safer Sex,” AIDS Patient Care and STDS, Vol. 23, No. 10, 2009, pp. 885-893. doi:10.1089/apc.2009.0043
[15] J. Li, H. J. Liu, J. H. Li, J. Luo, N. Koram and R. Detels, “Sexual Transmissibility of HIV among Opiate Users with Concurrent Sexual Partnerships: An Egocentric Net- work Study in Yunnan, China,” Addiction, Vol. 106, No. 10, 2011, pp. 1780-1787. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03459.x
[16] J. S. Norbeck, A. M. Lindsey and V. L. Carrieri, “Further Development of the Norbeck Social Support Questionnaire: Normative Data and Validity Testing,” Nursing Research, Vol. 32, No. 1, 1983, pp. 4-9.
[17] S. G. Heeringa, B. T. West and P. A. Berglund, “Applied Survey Data Analysis,” CRC Press, New York, 2010. doi:10.1201/9781420080674
[18] P. Smith and Z. Wang, “Chinese Leadership and Organizational Structures,” In: M. Bond, Eds., Chinese Psychology, Oxford University Press, Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 322-337.
[19] D. F. Dien, “Chinese Authority-Directed Orientation and Japanese Peer-Group Orientation: Questioning the Notion of Collectivism,” Review of General Psychology, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1999, pp. 372-385. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.3.4.372
[20] G. Scott, “‘They Got Their Program, and I Got Mine’: A Cautionary Tale Concerning the Ethical Implications of Using Respondent-Driven Sampling to Study Injection Drug Users,” International Journal of Drug Policy, Vol. 19, No. 1, 2008, pp. 42-51. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2007.11.014
[21] L. J. Ouellet, “Cautionary Comments on an Ethnographic Tale Gone Wrong,” International Journal of Drug Policy, Vol. 19, No. 3, 2008, pp. 238-240. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2008.02.013
[22] K. J. Gile and M. S. Handcock, “Respondent-Driven Sampling: An Assessment of Current Methodology,” Sociological Methodology, Vol. 40, No. 1, 2010, pp. 285- 327. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9531.2010.01223.x
[23] J. C. Wang, R. G. Carlson, R. S. Falck, H. A. Siegal, A. Rahman and L. N. Li, “Respondent-Driven Sampling to Recruit MDMA Users: A Methodological Assessment,” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Vol. 78, No. 2, 2005, pp. 147-157. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2004.10.011
[24] M. Spreen and R. Zwaagstra, “Personal Network Sampling, Outdegree Analysis and Multilevel Analysis: Introducing the Network Concepts in Studies of Hidden Populations,” International Sociology, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1994, pp. 475-491. doi:10.1177/026858094009004006
[25] L. G. Johnston, K. Sabin, T. H. Mai and T. H. Pham, “Assessment of Respondent Driven Sampling for Recruit- ing Female Sex Workers in Two Vietnamese Cities: Rea- ching the Unseen Sex Worker,” Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 83, Suppl. 1, 2006, pp. 16-28. doi:10.1007/s11524-006-9099-5
[26] S. Semaan, J. Lauby and J. Liebman, “Street and Network Sampling in Evaluation Studies of HIV Risk-Reduction Interventions,” AIDS Reviews, Vol. 4, No. 4, 2002, pp. 213-223.
[27] M. J. Salganik, “Variance Estimation, Design Effects, and Sample Size Calculations for Respondent-Driven Sampling,” Journal of Urban Health, Vol. 83, Suppl. 1, 2006, pp. 98-112. doi:10.1007/s11524-006-9106-x
[28] S. Goel and M. J. Salganik, “Assessing Respondent- Driven Sampling,” Proceedings of National Academy of Science of the United States of America, Vol. 107, No. 15, 2010, pp. 6743-6747. doi:10.1073/pnas.1000261107

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.