Monday, July 4, 2011

How much can social norms vary within a country?

Earlier I wrote a post about Norway’s surprisingly tight social norms and asked whether tight norms are good or bad. The study I referred to found that other countries that have tight norms had experienced population density, conflicts or other major crises in the past. Institutions such as autocracy and media regulation, as well as virtues like impulse control and self discipline are results of the historical factors. These institutions and virtues  reinforce the tight norms. In the end, this reinforcing effect results in a stable pattern of norms, or culture if you will. 

So why is Norway tight? Population density is not one of Norway’s greatest problems. Norway did experience hunger and the Black Death, but so did everyone else and that was centuries ago. Norway took part in the World Wars, but other more important participating countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and former soviet states have much looser norms. I know that Norwegians are considered to be reserved and a bit sarcastic, but still. Something doesn’t make sense. 

So I had a look at the data in the report and I found a possible explanation. The survey is done in my city: Bergen (see photo)! 

Photo: Emil Weatherhead Breistein /

Perhaps is the answer that the precious city between the seven mountains on the west coast for some reason has tighter social norms than the rest of the population. (However, based on upbringing in a rural small town, I suspect that there are areas with much tighter norms) Bergen is an old, small (260 000 inhabitants) city with a somewhat patriotic population. But on the other side, you would think that the big student population of about 20 000 would balance the tightness out? It is important to note that only 100-300 people were interviewed at each location (258 in Bergen). Is that enough to represent the whole city, let alone the whole country? It will be interesting to see how robust these results are over time and in other locations. 

So, help me out here, does Bergen have tighter norms than the rest of Norway? Can the tightness of social norms vary much within a country?


  1. Bergen, lovely city but can't comment on social norms beyond New Years.

    However, students are often under-represented in surveys because they rely on mobile phones, rather than fixed lines, for communications.

    Survey companies, on the other hand, like to minimise their costs - and so avoid calling mobile phones, relying instead on fixed lines.

    So 1 + 1 = lower student representation and more grumpy old people with tight social norms.

  2. Good thinking, but 46 % were students (about the same in all the other countries). But of course, they are overrepresented. However, that shouldn't matter if it's the same in all countries, should it?