Essays on Social Economics

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Title: Essays on Social Economics
Author: Ekman, Mats
Contributor: Hanken School of Economics, Department of Economics, Economics
Belongs to series: Economics and Society – 321
ISSN: 0424-7256 (printed)
2242-699X (PDF)
ISBN: 978-952-232-366-8 (printed)
978-952-232-367-5 (PDF)
Abstract: In this dissertation, four essays examine various ways in which people make decisions based upon others’ characteristics or actions. Individuals certainly can choose without regard to others and many decisions essentially lack social influences, such as the colour of one’s tie or scarf or car, but oftentimes peers may react to a choice in a way which decision-makers prefer not to disregard. Thus, some smoke or vote for the Greens because others do, or wear a certain haircut because it is the style at the time. Sometimes decisions may be private within some bound, such as choosing any uni-coloured car, but not a hippie-style multi-coloured one. This dissertation seeks to demonstrate the influence of such social elements on choices pertaining to four distinct areas: (1) whether to seek public assistance (the dole); (2) whether to vote or abstain; (3) what to eat when others may observe one’s choice; and (4) whom to marry to avoid some causes of marital disharmony. The treatment is always applied and mainly empirical; only the fourth essay makes use of an exclusively theoretical argument. This essay also differs in reducing the scope of social influences to characteristics of only one’s spouse(s). The article suggests an empirical pattern in which husbands tend to out-earn their wives in order to be able to withhold income from them to reduce the probability of non-paternity, with differences between the sexes declining as total incomes rise. The other three articles proceed in the opposite way, finding empirical patterns and suggesting explanations for them. The first essay finds that welfare offices in buildings with features that enhance the visibility of entry (such as a set of steps before the entrance), tend to approve a greater share of applications than do other welfare offices. The suggested explanation is that only the neediest individuals will accept the risk of being seen to be ‘welfare cases’, eliminating comparatively haphazard applications to raise the approval rate. The second essay looks at data from countries practising multiple concurrent national referenda, finding a pattern in which more concurrent referenda are associated with lower turnout, akin to quantity discounts being associated with fewer sales. This puzzling relationship, too, may be accounted for by peer effects. If groups are affected by referenda outcomes but individuals do not really wish to vote, group pressure may be less effective when several groups care about different referenda, because each group wants to avoid pressuring the non-voter. The article analysing dietary decisions finds that customers at a restaurant in Western Finland consume lighter meals when their body types are bigger than those of their peers. This finding points to a mechanism whereby thinness is prized and people wish to signal conformity to thinness-inducing habits by foregoing a larger meal in exchange for social recognition.
Date: 2018-10-19
Subject: Status and Peer Effects
Building Characteristics
Caloric Intake
Relative Income within Households

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