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The role of social norms in ending extreme poverty- Thematic paper

Harmful social norms cut across drivers of extreme poverty and contribute to some groups being ‘left behind’ by policies and programmes that aim to reduce poverty. Social norms are implicit or informal rules embedded within the institutions of a given society or group. They are influenced by beliefs, economic circumstances, political discourses, and historical factors (ALIGN, 2023; Cislaghi, Maji & Heise, 2018). Social norms provide order and predictability to society, they also reflect power structures and often reinforce them (Wazir, 2023). Classifying social norms as ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘harmful’ is fraught: it is both conceptually challenging, and subject to parochial bias (Thrasher, 2018).

This paper explores the role social norms may play in efforts to reduce extreme poverty by 2030. It has two primary objectives. First, to summarise the latest well-evidenced research on efforts to tackle extreme poverty through policies and programmes that address social norms. Second, to identify priority areas where further research would be most valuable. It is a non-systematic review of the leading drivers between poverty and social norms, the current body of evidence on measures to address these drivers, and well-documented gaps in evidence.

The paper draws on peer-reviewed academic research, grey literature, and blogs from leading institutions and thinkers. It aims to identify evidence gaps that might be filled by the DEEP project, with a focus on DEEP priority countries, while also introducing principles for the prioritisation of research on policies and programmes with potential to promote extreme poverty reduction.

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