How Beliefs about HIV Status Affect Risky Behaviors: Evidence from Malawi, Sixth Version

This paper examines how beliefs about own HIV status affect decisions to engage in risky sexual behavior (as measured by extramarital affairs) and analyzes the potential for interventions that influence beliefs, such as HIV testing and informational campaigns, to reduce transmission rates. The empirical analysis is based on a panel survey of married males for years 2006 and 2008 from the Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project (MDICP). In the data, beliefs about HIV status vary significantly geographically and over time, in part because of newly available testing opportunities and because of cultural differences. We estimate the effect of beliefs on risky behavior using Arellano and Carrasco’s (2003) semiparametric panel data estimator, which accommodates unobserved heterogeneity and belief endogeneity. Results show that changes in the belief of being HIV positive induce changes in risky behavior.Downward revisions in beliefs increase risky behavior and upward revisions decrease it. We modify Arellano and Carrasco’s (2003) estimator to allow for underreporting of extramarital affairs and find the estimates to be robust. Using the estimates and a prototypical epidemiological model of disease transmission, we show that better informing people about their HIV status on net reduces the population HIV transmission rate.

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