Social norms and the enforcement of laws
Daron Acemoglu, Matthew O. Jackson 19 September 2014
Social norms shape interactions but can be in conflict with new laws, often making such laws ineffective. This column presents new research on the interplay of laws and norms. High law-breaking induces less private cooperation, increasing the law-breaking further. For a successful change in behaviour, gradual imposition of new laws is recommended. An important aspect is that these new laws should not be in a strong conflict with the existing norms.
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.
Frontiers of economic research
social norms, whistle-blowing, law enforcement
New evidence on the durability of social norms
John Helliwell, Shun Wang, Jinwen Xu 12 March 2014
Social norms have been shown to have important effects on economic outcomes. This column discusses new evidence showing that social norms are deeply rooted in long-standing cultures, but do evolve in reaction to major changes. It draws on a fully global sample involving migrants in more than 130 countries, using seven waves of the Gallup World Poll.
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.
Frontiers of economic research Migration
institutions, immigration, social attitudes, trust, migration, Culture, social norms
Should we promote ‘healthy choices’ or ‘healthy environments’?
Joan Costa-i-Font 12 April 2013
Are healthy lifestyles purely about people’s personal choices? Can we explain why specific people are fit, non-smokers and risk-averse? This column argues that policymaking can incentivise health behaviour but that monetary incentives are not the only approach. Academics and policymakers should aim to influence social norms and society’s role models when monetary incentives are not enough.
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.
obesity, incentives, social norms, Smoking
How cooperation evolves: History, expectations, and leadership
Daron Acemoglu, Matthew O. Jackson 13 June 2011
Economists are increasingly recognising the importance of social norms in determining economic outcomes. While some argue that these norms are set in stone, this column introduces a new framework exploring how these norms emerge, how they can change, and how leadership by individuals can play a pivotal role.
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.
Frontiers of economic research Politics and economics
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
Attitudes to sex have changed dramatically over the last hundred years. This column presents a model where socialisation – the passing on of norms and ideologies by parents and institutions such as the church or state – is determined by the technological environment in which people live. Contraception has reduced the chance of unwanted pregnancies from premarital sex, and this in turn has changed social attitudes.
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.
Frontiers of economic research
Premarital sex, socialisation, social norms