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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon Gächter & Ernst Fehr, 1997. "Social Norms as a Social Exchange," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 133(II), pages 275-292, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:ses:arsjes:1997-ii-10
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alison L. Booth, 1985. "The Free Rider Problem and a Social Custom Model of Trade Union Membership," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 100(1), pages 253-261.
    2. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
    3. Corneo, Giacomo, 1995. "Social custom, management opposition, and trade union membership," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 275-292, February.
    4. Kandel, Eugene & Lazear, Edward P, 1992. "Peer Pressure and Partnerships," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(4), pages 801-817, August.
    5. Robin Naylor, 1989. "Strikes, Free Riders, and Social Customs," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 104(4), pages 771-785.
    6. Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst & Kment, Christiane, 1996. "Does Social Exchange Increase Voluntary Cooperation?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 49(4), pages 541-554.
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