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We propose a model to study when an intermediate action can serve as a stepping stone that enables the elimination of a harmful norm. While the intermediate action may facilitate the first “step”, it may also become a new norm. We derive intuitive conditions for stepping stones, which depend on the relative size of social penalties and intrinsic utility benefits. We propose an econometric approach to testing whether an intermediate action is a stepping stone, and apply it to original data on female genital cutting in Somalia. The analysis shows that the intermediate action may become the new norm.


Gulesci, Selim, Sam Jindani, Eliana La Ferrara, David Smerdon, Munshi Sulaiman, and H. Peyton Young. "A Stepping Stone Approach to Norm Transitions." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP23-013, April 2023.