Generalizing the network scale-up method: A new estimator for the size of hidden populations

Dennis M. Feehan, Matthew J. Salganik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The network scale-up method enables researchers to estimate the sizes of hidden populations, such as drug injectors and sex workers, using sampled social network data. The basic scale-up estimator offers advantages over other size estimation techniques, but it depends on problematic modeling assumptions. The authors propose a new generalized scale-up estimator that can be used in settings with nonrandom social mixing and imperfect awareness about membership in the hidden population. In addition, the new estimator can be used when data are collected via complex sample designs and from incomplete sampling frames. However, the generalized scale-up estimator also requires data from two samples: one from the frame population and one from the hidden population. In some situations these data from the hidden population can be collected by adding a small number of questions to already planned studies. For other situations, the authors develop interpretable adjustment factors that can be applied to the basic scale-up estimator. The authors conclude with practical recommendations for the design and analysis of future studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-189
Number of pages37
JournalSociological Methodology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Hidden populations
  • Network scale-up method
  • Sampling
  • Social networks


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