Abstract: Harmful social norms often persist despite legal and economic penalties against them. Historical examples include duelling in Europe and footbinding in China; contemporary examples include dowries, child marriage, and female genital cutting (FGC). We propose a general model of harmful norms that sheds light on the question of how intermediate actions affects norm dynamics. In particular, we provide conditions under which an intermediate action acts as a ‘stepping stone’ that facilitates the elimination of a harmful norm. We propose a framework for estimating the degree of social pressure in such models, and apply it to original data on FGC in Somalia, where a transition is currently underway from a severe form of FGC to a less invasive form. The analysis shows that an intermediate action may become absorbing, rather than a stepping stone toward abandonment, thus highlighting the fact that policies promoting intermediate actions can have unintended consequences.”
The Economic Theory Lunchtime Workshops are convened by Meg Meyer.