Social Justice Research

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 77–103

The communal/exchange distinction and some implications for understanding justice in families

  • Gail M. Williamson
  • Margaret S. Clark

DOI: 10.1007/BF01048060

Cite this article as:
Williamson, G.M. & Clark, M.S. Soc Just Res (1989) 3: 77. doi:10.1007/BF01048060


This article briefly reviews 10 years of research on a distinction between communal and exchange norms. Communal norms dictate benefits should be given in response to the other's needs. Exchange norms dictate benefits should be given in response to specific benefits received in the past or with the expectation of receiving specific benefits in the future. Choice of norms is shown to be influenced by the type of relationship desired or existing between two people. Evidence of chronic individual differences in tendencies to follow communal and to follow exchange norms in relationships is also presented. We argue that most people believe that communal norms should be followed in family relationships and we outline implications of the research reviewed for understanding justice in the family. Implications of (i) behavior in accord with exchange norms (e.g., quick repayment of benefits received, keeping track of individual inputs into joint tasks), (ii) behavior in accord with communal norms (e.g., helping, expressing emotion) and (iii) individual differences in relationship orientations are discussed.

Key words

communal normsexchange normsinterpersonal relationshipsfamily relationships

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gail M. Williamson
    • 1
  • Margaret S. Clark
    • 2
  1. 1.University of GeorgiaAthens
  2. 2.Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburgh