Social norms and the enforcement of laws

Daron Acemoglu, Matthew O. Jackson 19 September 2014

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Human societies rely on social norms for coordinating expectations, encouraging some actions and discouraging others. But once in place, norms are durable (Helliwell et al. 2014). They are powerful constraints on social interactions and may conflict with institutions and laws attempting to sanction certain behaviours. The conflict between prevailing norms and new laws often renders such laws ineffective.

A deadly example: Duelling in Europe

The history of duelling in Europe illustrates the power of norms in shaping the enforcement of laws.

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Topics:  Frontiers of economic research

Tags:  social norms, whistle-blowing, law enforcement

New evidence on the durability of social norms

John Helliwell, Shun Wang, Jinwen Xu 12 March 2014

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Recent studies find that individuals’ social norms – as evidenced by their opinions and behaviour – can be transmitted from one generation to the next within the same cultural setting (Algan and Cahuc 2010, Bjørnskov 2012, Dohmen et al. 2012, Guiso et al. 2006, Rainer and Siedler 2009, Rice and Feldman 1997). Studies also find that the current environment – such as institutions – plays an important role in shaping an individual’s social norms (Dinesen 2012, Nannestad et al. 2014, Alesina and La Ferrara 2002, Bjørnskov 2007, Glaeser et al. 2000, Helliwell and Wang 2011, Kosfeld et al.

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Topics:  Frontiers of economic research Migration

Tags:  institutions, immigration, social attitudes, trust, migration, Culture, social norms

Should we promote ‘healthy choices’ or ‘healthy environments’?

Joan Costa-i-Font 12 April 2013

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A growing share of healthcare expenditures is both directly and indirectly the consequence of unhealthy behaviour.

  • Preventable conditions linked to lifestyle choices such as obesity, smoking and drink-related illnesses play an ever-increasing role in explaining healthcare use and expenditures.
  • Obesity alone is estimated to account for 21% of US healthcare costs (Cowley and Meyerhoefer 2012).

This is so much the case that ‘prevention’ is now pinpointed as a key mechanism to decrease unnecessary, or avoidable, healthcare use.

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Topics:  Health economics

Tags:  obesity, incentives, social norms, Smoking

How cooperation evolves: History, expectations, and leadership

Daron Acemoglu, Matthew O. Jackson 13 June 2011

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Social norms, which create self-reinforcing expectations and patterns of behaviour, are the foundation of social life. In many economic, political, and social situations where coordination is important, different social norms, with sharply varying consequences, may emerge and persist. Different norms regarding how much others should be trusted constitute one important example.

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Topics:  Frontiers of economic research Politics and economics

Tags:  leadership, social norms

From shame to game in one hundred years: An economic model of the rise in premarital sex and its de-stigmatisation

Jeremy Greenwood, Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, Nezih Guner 20 February 2010

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The last one hundred years have witnessed a revolution in sexual behaviour. In 1900, only 6% of US women would have engaged in premarital sex by the age of 19, compared to 75% today (see figure 1). Public acceptance of premarital sex has reacted with a lag; in 1968 only 15% of women had a permissive attitude towards the act, despite the fact that about 40% of 19 year-old females had had premarital sex. The number with a permissive attitude had jumped to 45% by 1983, a time when 73% of 19 year olds were sexually experienced.

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Topics:  Frontiers of economic research

Tags:  Premarital sex, socialisation, social norms

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