#ediscussionday1 : What are social norms? #ediscussionday1

Nisha Singh

Dear Colleagues,

We just wrapped up the opening webinar for the discussion . The recording will be avilable later today  but you can access the presentation here . In the webinar, Ben Cislaghi provided an overview of social norms and how to understand them . Below is a summary  for you to review and then please share your thoughts on

  • ·       Are there any other elements that we might need to think about when defining social norms?
  • ·       Based on this framing of social norms,  how do you see them affecting women’s financial inclusion and economic empowerment outcomes?

What are Social Norms?

Social Norms are unwritten rules of behaviour that define what is normal in a group and can be rules that group members share when they interact with each other. Sometimes, these are rules of conformity and require conformity from all members of the group. There are different ways of understanding and defining social norms reflected in the cross-disciplinary and multi-faceted nature of its conceptualization. Over the past few decades, several academic disciplines have contributed to the study of social norms and how they influence behavior. Social norms affect our actions daily and “produce outcomes which are frequently inequitable, and dynamics that are often risky for women and girls”. They have been studied extensively in every discipline of the social sciences, from anthropology to economics to psychology, yet they are often implicit and unspoken, making their mechanisms hard to define and harder to measure. Recent work has built a rigorous theoretical structure around the relationship of beliefs, expectations and observed behaviors to the concept of social norms and given rise to hypotheses about how social norms originate, change and fade.

·       Social norm are individuals' beliefs about 1) what others do (descriptive norms), and 2) the extent to which others approve of something (normative norms). For instance, a couple might believe that no women in the villager work for pay, and that if a woman works outside of the household she will be gossiped about by the entire village.

·       The relevant “others” or reference group comprise of people whose opinions matter to the individual making the decision. In the example above, it could be neighbors, members of the community or influential community leaders.

·       A social norm is kept in place by several mechanisms. One often mentioned is social sanctions, either positive (social rewards - e.g. yielding approval and/or popularity) or negative (social punishment - e.g. yielding gossiping and/or violence).

·       Social norms are distinct from people's personal attitudes (people's internal preferences) but they can either be aligned or misaligned with them. The distinction is important because people can comply with a social norm even when it goes against their individual attitude. Norms and attitudes can either be aligned or misaligned. 

·       Social norms do not exist in isolation; they intersect with other material, institutional individual, and social factors. 


Join finequity.socialnorms@uncdf.dgroups.io to automatically receive all group messages.