Social Norms and Strategic Default
51 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2016 Last revised: 30 Jun 2017
Date Written: June 2017
This paper studies the behavioral mechanisms underlying the increase in strategic defaults during an economic crisis. We report data from a laboratory experiment in which we exogenously vary the state of the economy. Our data reveal two main reasons for why an economic contraction adversely affects repayments. First, weak economic conditions seem to soften debtors' moral constraints. When surrounded by insolvency, solvent debtors become less hesitant to default strategically. Second, an economic downturn also undermines the enforcement of social repayment norms by peers. However, we find that the decrease in norm enforcement is not caused by a break-down of the repayment norm itself, but rather is a consequence of the additional informational uncertainty that weak economic conditions create. In a crisis peers are reluctant to sanction defaulters, because the risk of harming innocent debtors is higher.
Keywords: Strategic Default, Moral Constraints, Social Norms
JEL Classification: G01, G02, C91
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation