Using Male Circumcision to Understand Social Norms as Multipliers

53 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2007 Last revised: 30 Oct 2007

See all articles by Sarah Waldeck

Sarah Waldeck

Seton Hall University - School of Law


This article uses non-religious male circumcision to explore how social norms affect behavioral cost-benefit analysis. It argues that norms are variables that color every aspect of the analysis, thereby encouraging an individual to either exaggerate or diminish the significance of other factors that figure into the behavioral calculus. To be sure, deviance from, or compliance with, a norm may have its own cost or benefit whether it be guilt, esteem, or the capital that might hinge on whether one sends the optimal social signal. But this article argues that an equally important function of norms is to affect the way individuals understand information, so that from the outset the behavioral outcome is weighted in favor of the predominant social norm. The article then discusses how policymakers might combat the information-distorting effect of norms, again using male circumcision as a case in point.

Keywords: circumcision, social norms, human behavior, cost benefit analysis, male circumcision, social circumcision

Suggested Citation

Waldeck, Sarah, Using Male Circumcision to Understand Social Norms as Multipliers. University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 72, p. 455, 2003; Seton Hall Public Law Research Paper No. 2007-006. Available at SSRN:

Sarah Waldeck (Contact Author)

Seton Hall University - School of Law ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

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