Rational Choice Theory in Comparative Sociology

in Comparative Sociology
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Among schools of thought in comparative research, Rational Choice Theory (rct) is both the most systematic and the most contested. rct lacks a “classical” foundation but offers a clear internal theory structure. The rationality assumption contains an unquestioned heuristic aspect, although the determinants of choice (especially preferences) lack a universally accepted solution. The choice aspect addresses the understanding of social phenomena as the result of individual actions seen in light of the possible alternatives. This view unifies scholars in the Rational Choice tradition and leads to the macro-micro-macro-scheme. Micro-oriented comparative research has flourished through the availability of multi-level data sets in fields such as social capital theory, social stratification and mobility, including educational attainment or the inclusion of migrants, family studies, criminology, and labor markets. Institutional rct-based comparative research has addressed welfare states, religion, and general questions. In both aspects, rct leaves room for further productivity in comparative research.

Rational Choice Theory in Comparative Sociology

in Comparative Sociology



AakvaagGunnar C. “Social mechanisms and grand theories of modernity – worlds apart?” Acta Sociologica 2013 56 199 212

AartsO.GrotenhuisM. T.NeedA.De GraafN. D. “Does duration of deregulated religious markets affect church attendance? Evidence from 26 religious markets in Europe and north America between 1981 and 2006.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 2010 49 657 672

AxelrodRobert The evolution of cooperation 1984 New York Basic Books

AxelrodRobert “An evolutionary approach to norms.” American Political Science Review 1986 80 1095 1111

BeckerGary S. The economics of discrimination 1957 Chicago University of Chicago Press

BeckerGary S. Human capital : A theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education 1964 New York National Bureau of Economic Research

BeckerGary S. “Crime and punishment: An economic approach.” Journal of Political Economy 1968 76 169 217

BeckerGary S. The economic approach to human behavior 1977 Chicago University of Chicago Press

BeckerGary S. A treatise on the family 1981 Chicago Chicago UP

BeckerGary S.MurphyKevin M. “A theory of rational addiction.” Journal of Political Economy 1988 96 675 700

BolT.van de WerfhorstH. G. “Signals and closure by degrees: The education effect across 15 European countries.” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 2011 29 119 132

BoudonRaymond Education opportunity and social inequality: Changing prospects in Western society 1974 New York John Wiley

BoudonRaymond The unintended consequences of social action 1982 New York St. Martin’s

BourdieuPierre RichardsonR. J. “The forms of capital.” Handbook of theory of research for the sociology of education 1986 New York Greenwood 241 258

BraunNormanGautschiThomas “Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! In meiner Brust. Ein Rational-Choice-Modell innerer Konflikte (“Two souls, alas!, are dwelling in my breast”: A rational choice model of inner conflicts).” Zeitschrift für Soziologie 2014 43 5 30

BreenR.JonssonJ. O. “Inequality of opportunity in comparative perspective: Recent research on educational attainment and social mobility.” Annual review of sociology 2005 31 Palo Alto Annual Reviews 223 243 Annual review of sociology

BreenRichardGoldthorpeJohn H. “Explaining educational differentials: Towards a formal rational action theory.” Rationality and Society 1997 9 275 305

BrinesJulie “Economic dependency, gender, and the division of labor at home.” American Journal of Sociology 1994 100 652 688

BurtRonald S. “The network structure of social capital.” Research in Organizational Behaviour 2000 22 345 423

CarbonaroW. “Cross-national differences in the skills-earnings relationship: The role of labor market institutions.” Social Forces 2006 84 1819 1842

ColemanJames S. Introduction to mathematical sociology 1964 London Free Press

ColemanJames S. “Social theory, social research, and a theory of action.” American Journal of Sociology 1986 91 1309 1335

ColemanJames S. “Social capital in the creation of human-capital.” American Journal of Sociology 1988 94 S95 S120

ColemanJames S. Foundations of social theory 1990 Cambridge, Mass. Belknap

ColemanJames S.KatzElihuMenzelHerbert “The diffusion of an innovation among physicians.” Sociometry 1957 20 253 270

ColemanJames S. United States Office of Education National Center for Education Statistics nces Equality of educational opportunity 1966 Washington U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare, Office of Education

CookeL. P.BaxterJ. “ ‘Families’ ” in international context: Comparing institutional effects across Western societies.” Journal of Marriage and Family 2010 72 516 536

CrawfordSue E. S.OstromElinor “A grammar of institutions.” American Political Science Review 1995 89 582 600

DallingerUrsula “Rationale Kooperation oder Moral? Der Wohlfahrtsstaat aus der Sicht der ökonomischen Institutionentheorie (Rational cooperation or cultural norms? The welfare state in the light of economic institutionalism).” Soziale Welt 2008 59 157 179

DieckhoffM. “Does it work? The effect of continuing training on labour market outcomes: A comparative study of Germany, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.” European Sociological Review 2007 23 295 308

DieckhoffM. “The effect of unemployment on subsequent job quality in Europe: A comparative study of four countries.” Acta Sociologica 2011 54 233 249

DurkheimÉmile Les règles de la méthode sociologique [1895] 1973 Paris Presses Universitaires de France

EckelC.GintisH. “Blaming the messenger: Notes on the current state of experimental economics.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 2010 73 109 119

EdlingChristopher “Rational choice theory and quantitative analysis. A comment on goldthorpe’s sociological alliance.” European Sociological Review 2000 16 1 8

EdlingChristopherSternCharlotta “Scandinavian rational choice sociology.” Acta Sociologica 2003 46 5 16

EeckhautM. C. W.StanforsM. A.van de PutteB. “Educational heterogamy and the division of paid labour in the family: A comparison of present-day Belgium and Sweden.” European Sociological Review 2014 30 64 75

ElsterJon Nuts and bolts for the social sciences 1989 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

EngleRobert F.GrangerClive W. J. “Cointegration and error correction: representation, estimation, and testing.” Econometrica 1987 55 251 76

Esping-AndersenG. “Two societies, one sociology, and no theory.” British Journal of Sociology 2000 51 59 77

EsserHartmut “Die Definition der Situation.” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 1996 48 1 34

EsserHartmut Soziologie: Spezielle Grundlagen 1999–2001 vol. 1–6 Frankfurt Campus

EsserHartmut “Eines für Alle(s)? Das Weber-Paradigma, das Konzept des moderaten methodologischen Holismus und das Modell der soziologischen Erklärung (One for all? The Weber paradigm, the moderate methodological holism concept and the sociological explanation model).” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 2006 58 352 363

EsserHartmutKronebergClemens “Am besten nichts Neues? (Fortunately, all quiet on the theory front?).” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 2010 S50 79 86

FehrE.FischbacherU. “The nature of human altruism.” Nature 2003 425 785 791

FerraginaE. “The socio-economic determinants of social capital and the mediating effect of history: Making democracy work revisited.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 2013 54 48 73

GamsonWilliam A. “A theory of coalition formation.” American Sociological Review 1961 26 373 382

GanglM. “Scar effects of unemployment: An assessment of institutional complementarities.” American Sociological Review 2006 71 986 1013

GelissenJohn P. T. M.van OorschotW. J. H.FinsveenE. “How does the welfare state influence individuals’ social capital? Eurobarometer evidence on individuals’ access to informal help.” European Societies 2012 14 416 440

GesthuizenM.ScheepersP. “Economic vulnerability among low-educated europeans resource, composition, labour market and welfare state influences.” Acta Sociologica 2010 53 247 267

GesthuizenM.van der MeerT.ScheepersP. “Education and dimensions of social capital: Do educational effects differ due to educational expansion and social security expenditure.” European Sociological Review 2008 24 617 632

GillA. “Government regulation, social anomie and protestant growth in Latin America – a cross-national analysis.” Rationality and Society 1999 11 287 316

GintisHerbert Game theory evolving 2000 Princeton Princeton UP

GoldthorpeJohn H. “The quantitative analysis of large-scale data-sets and rational action theory: For a sociological alliance.” European Sociological Review 1996 12 109 126

GoldthorpeJohn H. “Rational action theory for sociology.” The British Journal of Sociology 1998 49 167 192

HakimCatherine “Lifestyle preferences as determinants of women’s differentiated labor market careers.” Work and Occupations 2002 29 428 459

HarslofI. “The impact of welfare and labour market institutions on informal recruitment in European youth labour markets.” European Societies 2006 8 555 576

HechterM. “The role of values in rational choice theory.” Rationality and Society 1994 6 318 333.

HechterM. “From class to culture.” American Journal of Sociology 2004 110 400 445

HechterM.KanazawaS. “Sociological rational choice theory.” Annual Review of Sociology 1997 23 191 214

HechterMichael YoungL. A. “Religion and rational choice theory.” Rational choice theory and religion: Summary and assessment 1997 . New York Routledge 147 159

HedströmPeter Dissecting the social. On the principles of analytical sociology 2005 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

HedströmPeterBearmanPeter The Oxford handbook of analytical sociology 2009a Oxford Oxford University Press

HedströmPeterBearmanPeter HedströmP.BearmanP. “What is analytical sociology all about? An introductory essay.” The Oxford handbook of analytical sociology 2009b Oxford Oxford University Press 3 24

HedströmPeterSternCharlotta DurlaufS. N.BlumeL. E. “Rational choice and sociology.” The new Palgrave dictionary of economics 2008 Basingstoke, UK Palgrave Macmillan 872 877

HeisigJ. P. “Who does more housework: Rich or poor? A comparison of 33 countries.” American Sociological Review 2011 76 74 99

HomansGeorge C. Social behavior: Its elementary forms 1961 New York Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

HookJ. L. “Care in context: Men’s unpaid work in 20 countries, 1965–2003.” American Sociological Review 2006 71 639 660

HookJ. L. “Gender inequality in the welfare state: Sex segregation in housework, 1965–2003.” American Journal of Sociology 2010 115 1480 1523

HummellHans J.OppKarl-Dieter “Sociology without sociology. The reduction of sociology to psychology: A program, a test, and the theoretical relevance.” Inquiry 1968 11

HummelsheimD.HirschleJ. “Mother’s employment: Cultural imprint or institutional governance” European Societies 2010 12 339 366

IannacconeLaurence R. “Religious markets and the economics of religion.” Social Compass 1992 39 123 131

IannacconeLaurence R. “Why strict churches are strong.” American Journal of Sociology 1994 99 1180 1211

JeppersonR.MeyerJ. W. “Multiple levels of analysis and the limitations of methodological individualisms.” Sociological Theory 2011 29 54 73

KaariainenJ.LehtonenH. “The variety of social capital in welfare state regimes – a comparative study of 21 countries.” European Societies 2006 8 27 57

KohnMelvin L. “Cross-national research as an analytic strategy: American sociological association, 1987 presidential address.” American Sociological Review 1987 52 713 731

KorpiW. “Contentious institutions – an augmented rational-action analysis of the origins and path dependency of welfare state institutions in Western countries.” Rationality and Society 2001 13 235 283

KreidlM.HubatkovaB. “Does coresidence with grandparents reduce the negative association between sibship size and reading test scores? Evidence from 40 countries.” Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 2014 38 1 17

KronebergClemensKalterFrank “Rational choice theory and empirical research: Methodological and theoretical contributions in Europe.” Annual Review of Sociology 2012 38 73 92

Le DonneN. “European variations in socioeconomic inequalities in students’ cognitive achievement: The role of educational policies.” European Sociological Review 2014 30 329 343

LehmannD. “Religion as heritage, religion as belief: Shifting frontiers of secularism in Europe, the usa and brazil.” International Sociology 2013 28 645 662

LinNan “Building a network theory of social capital.” Connections 1999 22 28 51

LindenbergSiegwart EichnerK.HabermehlW. “Individuelle Effekte, kollektive Phänomene und das Problem der Transformation (Individual effects, collective phenomena, and the problem of transformation).” Probleme der Erklärung sozialen Verhaltens 1977 Meisenheim a.G. Hain 46 84

LindenbergSiegwart “Homo socio-oeconomicus: The emergence of a general model of man in the social sciences.” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics jite / Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissenschaft 1990 146 727 748

LindenbergSiegwartWipplerReinhard HondrichK. O.MatthesG. “Theorienvergleich: Elemente der Rekonstruktion (theory comparison: Elements of reconstruction).” Theorienvergleich in den Sozialwissenschaften 1978 219 223

MahoneyJ. “Path dependence in historical sociology.” Theory and Society 2000 29 507 548

MarxKarl. MandelE.FowkesB. FernbachD. Capital: A critique of political economy [1867] 1993 Penguin Classics

MertonRobert King Social theory and social structure [1942] 1966 New York Free Press

MontanariI.NelsonK.PalmeJ. “Towards a european social model? Trends in social insurance among eu countries 1980–2000.” European Societies 2008 10 787 810

MonttG. “Cross-national differences in educational achievement inequality.” Sociology of Education 2011 84 49 68

NorkusZ. “Max Weber’s interpretive sociology and rational choice approach.” Rationality and Society 2000 12 259 282

NorthDouglas C. Institutions institutional change and economic performance 1990 Cambridge Cambridge UP

OppKarl-DieterHartmannPeter The rationality of political protest: A comparative analysis of rational choice theory 1989 Boulder, Colo. Westview Press

PaxtonP. “Social capital and democracy: An interdependent relationship.” American Sociological Review 2002 67 254 277

PaxtonP. “Association memberships and generalized trust: A multilevel model across 31 countries.” Social Forces 2007 86 47 76

PutnamRobert D.LeonardiRobertNanettiRafaella Making democracy work: Civic traditions in modern Italy 1993 Princeton NJ

RandD. G.NowakM. A. “Human cooperation.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 2013 17 413 425

RaubWernerBuskensVincentVan AssenMarcel A. L. M. “Micro-macro links and microfoundations in sociology.” The Journal of Mathematical Sociology 2011 35 1 25

ReimerD.NoelkeC.KucelA. “Labor market effects of field of study in comparative perspective an analysis of 22 European countries.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 2008 49 233 256

RobbinsB. G. “Neither government nor community alone: A test of state-centered models of generalized trust.” Rationality and Society 2011 23 304 346

RobbinsB.PettinicchioD. “Social capital, economic development, and homicide: A cross-national investigation.” Social Indicators Research 2012 105 519 540

RosenfeldR.MessnerS. F. “The crime drop in comparative perspective: The impact of the economy and imprisonment on American and European burglary rates.” British Journal of Sociology 2009 60 445 471

RösselJörg “Vom Rationalen Akteur zum ‘Systemic Dope’: eine Auseinandersetzung mit der sozialtheorie von Hartmut Esser (From rational actor on the ‘systemic dope’ – a controversy with the social theory of Hartmut Esser).” Berliner Journal für Soziologie 2008 18 156 178

RothsteinB. “The universal welfare state as a social dilemma.” Rationality and Society 2001 13 213 233

RothsteinB.EekD. “Political corruption and social trust: an experimental approach.” Rationality and Society 2009 21 81 112

RuiterS.van TubergenF. “Religious attendance in cross-national perspective: A multilevel analysis of 60 countries.” American Journal of Sociology 2009 115 863 895

ScheepersP.GijsbertsM.HelloE. “Religiosity and prejudice against ethnic minorities in Europe: Cross-national tests on a controversial relationship.” Review of Religious Research 2002 43 242 265

SchlüterAchimTheesfeldInsa “The grammar of institutions: The challenge of distinguishing between strategies, norms, and rules.” Rationality and Society 2010 22 445 475

ScholtzHanno “Institutions and formal game theory.” 2015 currently under review

SmithAdam An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations [1776] 1976 London Clarendon

SonderskovK. M. “Does generalized social trust lead to associational membership? Unravelling a bowl of well-tossed spaghetti.” European Sociological Review 2011 27 419 434

SonderskovK. M.DaugbjergC. “The state and consumer confidence in eco-labeling: Organic labeling in denmark, sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.” Agriculture and Human Values 2011 28 507 517

StarkRodneyFinkeRoger Acts of faith: Explaining the human side of religion 2000 Berkeley University of California Press

StolzJ. “A silent battle: Theorizing the effects of competition between churches and secular institutions.” Review of Religious Research 2010 51 253 276

StolzJ. “ ‘All things are possible’: Towards a sociological explanation of pentecostal miracles and healings.” Sociology of Religion 2011 72 456 482

TeltemannJ.WindzioM. “Die ‘kognitive Exklusion’ junger Migranten im Ländervergleich: Effekte institutioneller und sozialstruktureller Faktoren.” Berliner Journal für Soziologie 2011 21 335 361

ThompsonKenneth Readings from Emile Durkheim [1985] 2005 London Routledge

UdehnLars Methodological individualism Background history and meaning 2001 London Routledge

UdehnLars “The changing face of methodological individualism.” Annual Review of Sociology 2002 28 479 507

van der LippeT.de RuijterJ.de RuijterE.RaubW. “Persistent inequalities in time use between men and women: A detailed look at the influence of economic circumstances, policies, and culture.” European Sociological Review 2011 27 164 179

van OorschotW.ArtsW.GelissenJ. “Social capital in Europe – measurement and social and regional distribution of a multifaceted phenomenon.” Acta Sociologica 2006 49 149 167

van OorschotW.FinsveenE. “The welfare state and social capital inequality.” European Societies 2009 11 189 210

VaneJ.StipkovaM. “The national religious environment and the orthodoxy of Christian beliefs: A comparison of Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.” Sociologicky Casopis-Czech Sociological Review 2013 49 403 425

VerwiebeR.RiedererB. “Die Lesekompetenzen von Jugendlichen mit Migrationshintergrund in westlichen Gesellschaften. Eine Mehrebenenanalyse auf Basis der PISA-Studie von 2000 bis 2009.” “The reading literacy of immigrant youth in Western societies a multilevel analysis based on PISA 2000 to 2009.” Zeitschrift für Soziologie 2013 42 201 221

VinackeW. EdgarArkoffAbe “An experimental study of coalitions in the triad.” American Sociological Review 1957 22 406 414

VroomanJ. C. “Regimes and cultures of social security: Comparing institutional models through nonlinear pca.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 2012 53 444 477

WalrasLéon Eléments d’économie politique pur ou théorie de la richesse sociale 1874 Lausanne Corbaz

WeberMax Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft 1922 Tübingen Mohr (Siebeck)

YoungLawrence Alfred Rational choice theory and religion: Summary and assessment 1997 New York Routledge

ZafirovskiM. “Unification of sociological theory by the rational choice model: Conceiving the relationship between economics and sociology.” Sociology-the Journal of the British Sociological Association 1999 33 495 514

ZafirovskiM. “The rational choice generalization of neoclassical economics reconsidered: Any theoretical legitimation for economic imperialism?” Sociological Theory 2000 18 448 471


  • View in gallery
    The macro-micro-macro scheme of sociological explanation.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 22 22 10
Full Text Views 98 98 72
PDF Downloads 7 7 3
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0