Dynamic Relationships between Social Norms and Pro-Environmental Behaviour: Evidence from Household Recycling
43 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2017 Last revised: 15 Feb 2018
Date Written: November 11, 2017
Social norms are strongly associated with pro-environmental behaviours, but the evolution and dynamic effects of norms are less well understood. This article builds on the distinction of norms being descriptive, characterizing what people actually do, or injunctive, characterizing what people should do. It identifies four categories of norms with the further distinction of whether the norms arise from personal beliefs or actions or from the behaviour or judgments of others. The analysis uses five years of longitudinal U.S. data that tracks changes in household recycling and controls for household characteristics and differences in state recycling laws. The results extend previous research findings by showing that personal norms exhibit cascading dynamics in which norms encourage later changes in recycling behaviour, while recycling behaviours encourage later changes in personal norms. This mutual support between norms and behaviours implies that societal actions encouraging change in either personal norms or behaviours will support growth in the other. Recognizing this interdependence can assist in the effective utilization of social norms as a behavioural policy instrument.
Keywords: recycling, social norms, environmental behaviour, injunctive norms, descriptive norms, nudges, dynamic relationships
JEL Classification: K32, Q53, R11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation