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Social Norms as a Social Exchange

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  • Simon Gächter
  • Ernst Fehr

Abstract

Social Norms are a pervasive phenomenon in social and economic life. They have important economic consequences and constitute powerful social constraints on individual behaviour beyond the legal constraints and the market constraints usually considered by economists. This paper presents a simple theory of social norms that is based on the social exchange approach as developed by e. g. HOMANS, BLAU and more recently by HOLLÄNDER. The sanctioning of deviations from the norm by social (dis)approval is at the heart of this approach. The paper also provides an experimental test of the theory. The empirical results indicate that social exchanges are not capable of generating behavioural effects among complete strangers. Yet, with some minimal social familiarity among subjects the opportunity for social exchanges gives rise to a significant increase in voluntary cooperation and, thus, norm governed behaviour.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES) in its journal Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics.

Volume (Year): 133 (1997)
Issue (Month): II (June)
Pages: 275-292

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Handle: RePEc:ses:arsjes:1997-ii-10

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  1. Naylor, Robin, 1989. "Strikes, Free Riders, and Social Customs," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 104(4), pages 771-85, November.
  2. Corneo, Giacomo, 1995. "Social custom, management opposition, and trade union membership," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 275-292, February.
  3. Booth, Alison L, 1985. "The Free Rider Problem and a Social Custom Model of Trade Union Membership," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 100(1), pages 253-61, February.
  4. Kandel, E. & Lazear, E.P., 1990. "Peer Pressure and Partnerships," Papers 90-07, Rochester, Business - Managerial Economics Research Center.
  5. Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst & Kment, Christiane, 1996. "Does Social Exchange Increase Voluntary Cooperation?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(4), pages 541-54.
  6. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
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