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Norm-based accounts of social behavior in economics typically reflect tradeoffs between maximization of own consumption utility and conformity to social norms. Theories of norm-following tend to assume that there exists a single, stable, commonly known injunctive social norm for a given choice setting and that each person has a stable propensity to follow social norms. We collect panel data on 1468 participants aged 11–15 years in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Bogotá, Colombia in which we measure norms for the dictator game and norm-following propensity twice at 10 weeks apart. We test these basic assumptions and find that norm-following propensity is stable, on average, but reported norms show evidence of change. We find that individual-level variation in reported norms between people and within people across time has interpretable structure using a series of latent transition analyses (LTA) which extend latent class models to a panel setting. The best fitting model includes five latent classes corresponding to five sets of normative beliefs that can be interpreted in terms of what respondents view as “appropriate” (e.g. equality vs. generosity) and how they view deviations (e.g. deontological vs. consequentialist). We also show that a major predictor of changing latent classes over time comes from dissimilarity to others in one’s network. Our application of LTA demonstrates how researchers can engage with heterogeneity in normative perceptions by identifying latent classes of beliefs and deepening understanding of the extent to which norms are shared, stable, and can be predicted to change. Finally, we contribute to the nascent experimental literature on the economic behavior of children and adolescents.


This article was originally published in Experimental Economics in 2024.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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