Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Seminar Papers,
Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies

No 622: Incentives and Social Norms in Household Behavior

Assar Lindbeck ()
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Assar Lindbeck: Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University, Postal: Stockholm University, S-106 69 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: In a broad psychological perspective, both economic incentives and social norms may be be regarded as giving rise to purposesful, or “rational” behavior. By this I simply mean that individuals act in accordance with expected reward or punishment, even though the form these take differs substantially in the two cases. Whereas economic incentives imply “material rewards”, or favors that can be traded for such rewards including leisure, social norms imply “social rewards”. The latter basically take the form of approval or disapproval from others, and related feelings of pride or shame. Moreover, once a social norm has been internalized in an individual’s own value system, behavior in accordance with, or against, the norm will also result in feelings of self-respect or guilt. All this suggests that not only economic incentives but also social norms may be analyzed by means of utility theory, as will be illustrated below. Many social norms may not have much to do with economic incentives (Elster,1989). In some cases, it is, however, useful to study the interaction between them. Indeed, this is the basic message of the paper. My discussion will be limited to three norms of apparent importance for household behavior: (i) work norms; (ii) norms against wage underbidding; and (iii) saving and consumption norms. Thus, the paper deals with norms concerning willingness to work, ability to get a job and the use of income.

Keywords: Social Norms; Incentives; Employment; Saving; Consumption

JEL-codes: D10; E24

13 pages, October 29, 1997

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