Addressing the Social Stigma of Food Pantry Usage with Social Comparison Information in a Community College Setting

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According to Feeding America, 42 million people were projected to experience food insecurity in 2021, that is, one in eight people in the overall population, including 13 million children (Feeding America 2021). Despite the prevalence of food insecurity, there is evidence that many fail to take advantage of food assistance due to stigma. The research objective of this thesis is to test whether such a stigma could be reduced by using social comparison information to increase food pantry usage. I conducted an intervention in a community college setting using social norms as validation to increase usage of the food pantry operating within the college. Students were randomly assigned to either receive social comparison information regarding others’ use of the food pantry or not receive such information (the control). While stigma is one of the primary hypothesized reasons for food-insecure people’s avoidance of food pantries, there is little prior work seeking to address this stigma. Contrary to our initial hypothesis, the individuals from the control group used the on-campus food pantry more than those in the social comparison group within a month and a half after the social comparison information was shared with the treatment group. Use of the on-campus food pantry was even less for low-income individuals in the treatment group. The treatment is effective for encouraging individuals to disclose their history of food pantry usage. The results show that more people from the social comparison group are willing to admit that they have used any food pantry (whether it be an on-campus food pantry or any other food pantry) before.

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53 pages


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Behavioral Economics; Consumer Behavior


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Union Local


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Just, David

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Gomez, Miguel

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Applied Economics and Management

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M.S., Applied Economics and Management

Degree Level

Master of Science

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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