How New Information Can Change Old Social Norms

Monday, January 25, 2021
4:10 pm to 5:30 pm PST

Leonardo Bursztyn

Can widespread misperceptions about others’ beliefs sustain social norms? How do social norms change when new information becomes available?

In a first paper, we use experiments to test the idea that Donald Trump’s rise in popularity and eventual victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election causally increased individual’s willingness to publicly express anti-immigrant (xenophobic) views, as well as the social acceptability of such expression.

In a second paper, we show that the vast majority of young married men in Saudi Arabia privately support women working outside the home (WWOH) and substantially underestimate support by other similar men. Correcting these beliefs increases men’s (costly) willingness to help their wives search for jobs. Months later, wives of men whose beliefs were corrected are more likely to have applied and interviewed for a job outside the home. In a recruitment experiment with a local company, randomly informing women about actual support for WWOH leads them to switch from an at-home temporary enumerator job to a higher-paying, outside-the-home version of the job.

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Leonardo Bursztyn is professor of economics at the University of Chicago. His current research uses field experiments to understand how individuals make schooling, consumption, political, and financial decisions—and in particular how these decisions are shaped by individuals’ social environment. Bursztyn's research has been published in leading academic journals, including Econometrica, the American Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Political Economy, and the Review of Economic Studies. He is the co-director of the Becker Friedman Institute Political Economics Research Initiative, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a fellow at the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development, and an affiliate at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab. He is also the recipient of a 2016 Sloan Research Fellowship.

Leonardo Bursztyn
Leonardo Bursztyn


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Last updated:

January 27, 2021