The dynamics of costly social norms

Feb 2020 | 883

Authors: H Peyton Young Sam Jindani

Social norms are costly if they are harmful for individuals but they remain in place for long periods of time because deviations are punished by members of the community. Examples include female genital cutting, foot binding, and codes of honour such as duelling. These and many other costly norms are seldom ‘all or nothing’: they are multidimensional and can take many altern¬ative forms. We develop a general theory of norm dynamics that focuses on the intermediate-run behaviour of such systems. Al-though in the (very) long run costly norms tend to die out, in the intermediate run transitions to less costly versions of the norm may occur that significantly retard its ultimate abandonment.

Revised January 2020.

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