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Social Norms and Strategic Default


  • Brown, Martin


  • Schmitz, Jan


  • Zehnder, Christian



This paper studies the behavioral mechanisms underlying the increase in strategic defaults during an economic crisis. We report data from a laboratory experiment in which we exogenously vary the state of the economy. Our data reveal two main reasons for why an economic contraction adversely affects repayments. First, weak economic conditions seem to soften debtors' moral constraints. When surrounded by insolvency, solvent debtors become less hesitant to default strategically. Second, an economic downturn also undermines the enforcement of social repayment norms by peers. However, we find that the decrease in norm enforcement is not caused by a break-down of the repayment norm itself, but rather is a consequence of the additional informational uncertainty that weak economic conditions create. In a crisis peers are reluctant to sanction defaulters, because the risk of harming innocent debtors is higher.

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  • Brown, Martin & Schmitz, Jan & Zehnder, Christian, 2016. "Social Norms and Strategic Default," Working Papers on Finance 1608, University of St. Gallen, School of Finance, revised Jun 2017.
  • Handle: RePEc:usg:sfwpfi:2016:08

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    More about this item


    Strategic Default; Moral Constraints; Social Norms;

    JEL classification:

    • G01 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Financial Crises
    • G02 - Financial Economics - - General - - - Behavioral Finance: Underlying Principles
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior


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