Measuring Gender and Social Norms

Recommended Measures for Use in Survey Research


Social norms are the informal rules and expectations that govern behavior in groups or societies imparted via socialization across the lifespan. We can assess social norms by asking: 1) what the respondent thinks others in their given reference group are doing or not doing (descriptive norms) and 2) their perception of what others in their given reference group think they should or should not do (injunctive norms). Gender norms are the socially ascribed rules and expectations of individuals based on their biological sex or gender, and these can restrict choices when people wish to move beyond gendered expectations.

Social norms measures are less available than attitudinal measures, which capture an individual’s beliefs or views about behavior. However, measures of an individual’s attitudes and beliefs are not the same as social norms in that individual’s environment, though social norms do affect individual attitudes/beliefs. Measurement of social norms in gender, health, and development surveys is a growing field but requires more development and psychometric testing.

Last updated on 10 December 2020.

If you have any recommendations, comments or questions regarding this work, please contact us at

This work is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Grant: OPP1163682).

You have successfully registered

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

EMERGE will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.