Norms and Reform: Legalizing Homosexuality Improves Attitudes

18 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2017

See all articles by Charles Kenny

Charles Kenny

Center for Global Development

Dev Patel

Harvard University

Date Written: October 13, 2017


This analysis examines the relationship between legal reform and social norms surrounding homosexuality. We document three main findings. First, about a fifth of the variation in individual preferences can be explained at a country level. Second, using a difference-in-differences strategy, legalizing homosexuality improves how individuals view the tone of their communities. Third, we provide further evidence supporting a legal origins argument by examining former colonies. Countries that were colonized by the British Empire have significantly worse legal rights for same-sex couples than those under other colonial powers. We conclude that adopting legal reform can improve societal attitudes.

Keywords: Homosexuality, Legal Reform, Social Norms, Colonialism

JEL Classification: J16, K38

Suggested Citation

Kenny, Charles and Patel, Dev, Norms and Reform: Legalizing Homosexuality Improves Attitudes (October 13, 2017). Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 465, Available at SSRN: or

Charles Kenny (Contact Author)

Center for Global Development ( email )

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5th floor
Washington, DC 20036
United States

Dev Patel

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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