Econometrica: May 2017, Volume 85, Issue 3

A Structural Model of Dense Network Formation

https://doi.org/10.3982/ECTA10400
p. 825-850

Angelo Mele

This paper proposes an empirical model of network formation, combining strategic and random networks features. Payoffs depend on direct links, but also link externalities. Players meet sequentially at random, myopically updating their links. Under mild assumptions, the network formation process is a potential game and converges to an exponential random graph model (ERGM), generating directed dense networks. I provide new identification results for ERGMs in large networks: if link externalities are nonnegative, the ERGM is asymptotically indistinguishable from an Erdős–Rényi model with independent links. We can identify the parameters only when at least one of the externalities is negative and sufficiently large. However, the standard estimation methods for ERGMs can have exponentially slow convergence, even when the model has asymptotically independent links. I thus estimate parameters using a Bayesian MCMC method. When the parameters are identifiable, I show evidence that the estimation algorithm converges in almost quadratic time.

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