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A theory of sexual revolution: explaining the collapse of the norm of premarital abstinence

Chien Liu ()
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Chien Liu: Wagner College

Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, 2021, vol. 20, issue 1, No 4, 58 pages

Abstract: Abstract The sexual revolution that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s is one of the most profound social changes during the second half of the twentieth century in America. Before the revolution, there existed a norm proscribing premarital sex (PS norm); premarital sex was not accepted. After the sexual revolution, the PS norm no longer existed; premarital sex became accepted. In the literature on how premarital sex became accepted, little attention is given to the institutional change that transpired—the collapse of a sexual norm. This study specifies one micro-mechanism of this social change. Specifically, adopting methodological individualism and the prisoner's dilemma game, I develop a theory that explains how a technological innovation for contraception triggered a change in individuals' perception of premarital sex, which led to their behavioral change. As a result, premarital sex became accepted, and the norm proscribing premarital sex collapsed. I use General Social Survey data to test the hypothesized micro-mechanism of the institutional change. The empirical analysis supports the hypothesis derived from the theory. Based on the above analyses, I discuss two alternative explanations and the issue of teenage pregnancy.

Keywords: Sexual revolution; Institutional change; Norm collapse; Premarital sex; Rational choice theory (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1007/s11299-020-00269-7

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