Evaluation of respondent-driven sampling in a study of urban young men who have sex with men

Kuhns, L. M.; Kwon, S.; Ryan, D. T.; Garofalo, R.; Phillips, G., 2nd; Mustanski, B. S.

J Urban Health. 2014 Aug 17; 92(1):151-67


Evidence suggests that respondent-driven sampling (RDS) is an efficient approach to sampling among varied populations of adult men who have sex with men (MSM) both in the USA and abroad, although no studies have yet evaluated its performance among younger MSM, a population with a steep rise in HIV infection in recent years. Young MSM (YMSM) may differ in terms of their connectedness to other YMSM (e.g., due to evolving sexual identity, internalization of sexual minority stigma, and lack of disclosure to others) and mobility (e.g., due to parental monitoring) which may inhibit the sampling process. The aims of this study were to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of RDS-based sampling among young urban MSM and to identify factors associated with recruitment success. We hypothesized that demographic, social, behavioral, and network factors, including racial/ethnic minority status, homelessness (i.e., as an indicator of socioeconomic marginalization), HIV-positive status, substance use problems, gay community connectedness, and network size would be positively related to recruitment productivity, while sexual minority stigmatization, environmental barriers (e.g., parental monitoring), and meeting sex partners on the internet (i.e., virtual venue) would be negatively related to recruitment productivity. Between December 2009 and February 2013, we used RDS to recruit a sample of 450 YMSM, ages 16-20. Findings suggest that the use of RDS for sampling among YMSM is challenging and may not be feasible based on the slow pace of recruitment and low recruitment productivity. A large number of seeds (38 % of the sample, n = 172) had to be added to the sample to maintain a reasonable pace of recruitment, which makes use of the sample for RDS-based population estimates questionable. In addition, the prevalence of short recruitment chains and segmentation in patterns of recruitment by race/ethnicity further hamper the network recruitment process. Thus, RDS was not particularly efficient in terms of the rate of recruitment or effective in generating a representative sample. Hypotheses regarding factors associated with recruitment success were supported for network size and internalized stigma (but not other factors), suggesting that participants with larger network sizes or high levels of internalized stigma may have more and less success recruiting others, respectively.

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