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Taboos and Identity: Considering the Unthinkable

Author

Listed:
  • Chaim Fershtman
  • Uri Gneezy
  • Moshe Hoffman

Abstract

A taboo is an "unthinkable" action. Even the thought of violating a taboo triggers a punishment. We consider a model in which taboos are part of the definition of one's identity. Deliberating over breaking the taboo changes the individual's choice set, and provides information on possible private benefits. The strength of the taboo is determined by the number of individuals that obey it. We analyze the relationship between social heterogeneity and taboos' strength. We then examine societies in which individuals choose among several identities characterized by different taboos. We characterize the conditions that give rise to a multi-identity society. (JEL Z13)

Suggested Citation

  • Chaim Fershtman & Uri Gneezy & Moshe Hoffman, 2011. "Taboos and Identity: Considering the Unthinkable," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 139-164, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aejmic:v:3:y:2011:i:2:p:139-64 Note: DOI: 10.1257/mic.3.2.139
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. George Akerlof, 1976. "The Economics of Caste and of the Rat Race and Other Woeful Tales," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 90(4), pages 599-617.
    2. George A. Akerlof, 1980. "A Theory of Social Custom, of which Unemployment may be One Consequence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, pages 749-775.
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    Cited by:

    1. Cervellati, Matteo & Vanin, Paolo, 2013. "“Thou shalt not covet”: Prohibitions, temptation and moral values," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 15-28.
    2. repec:spr:joecth:v:64:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s00199-016-0990-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Mechtel, Mario & Hett, Florian & Kröll, Markus, 2014. "Endogenous Social Identity and Group Choice," Annual Conference 2014 (Hamburg): Evidence-based Economic Policy 100307, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    4. Cervellati, Matteo & Vanin, Paolo, 2013. "“Thou shalt not covet”: Prohibitions, temptation and moral values," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, pages 15-28.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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