Social identity and social free riding

Mark Bernard, Florian Hett, Mario Mechtel, 2016,
European Economic Review, 90, 4-17

We model individual identification choice as a strategic group formation problem. When choosing a social group to identify with, individuals appreciate high social status and a group stereotype to which they have a small social distance. A group׳s social status and stereotype are shaped by the (exogenous) individual attributes of its members and hence endogenous to individuals׳ choices. Unless disutility from social distance is strong enough, this creates a strategic tension as individuals with attributes that contribute little to group status would like to join high-status groups, thereby diluting the latters׳ status and changing stereotypes. Such social free-riding motivates the use of soft exclusion technologies in high-status groups, which provides a unifying rationale for phenomena such as hazing rituals, charitable activities or status symbols that is not taste-based or follows a standard signaling mechanism.