15 Balanced Reciprocity Examples

balanced reciprocity examples and definition

Balanced reciprocity occurs when two people exchange goods, services, assistance, or favors that are more or less of equal value. The complete exchange does not have to occur immediately, but there is an expectation of reciprocity within a reasonable period of time. 

Human beings are very good at monitoring the exchange of resources and evaluating the value of each side’s contribution.  

When one person provides a gift or service, does a favor for, or gives a verbal compliment, the other party should provide something in return. This is a kind of unwritten rule in many cultures.

Balanced Reciprocity Examples

  • Jim and his brother have always agreed not to spend more than 20 dollars on each other’s birthday gifts ─ Balanced
  • Alisa is willing to trade clothes of equal value with her best friend, but won’t trade her LV purse for a simple skirt. No way ─ Balanced
  • Mitchell hopes the union will vote for the new contract offered by management. He thinks it places fair value on their work and offers many benefits in return ─ Balanced        
  • Mr. and Mrs. Williams stopped inviting their next-door neighbors over for a backyard BBQ because they rarely brought any beverages or snacks ─ Unbalanced
  • Kumar borrowed his friend’s car while his was in the shop. To show his gratitude, he washed and waxed the car, and filled the tank before returning it ─ Balanced
  • Country X and Country Y have a mutual visa-free entry agreement so that each other’s citizens can travel between countries hassle free ─ Balanced
  • Janelle will let her sister borrow her blouse for her big date if she agrees to drive her and her friends to the concert ─ Balanced
  • Juson stopped spending hours making playlists for his friends because they never did the same for him ─ Unbalanced.
  • Javi and Antonio have agreed to switch shifts for one week only so they can each take care of some personal business ─ Balanced  
  • Both candidates running for governor have promised to improve schools and public services, but make it clear that taxes will have to go up ─ Balanced  

Case Studies

1. Balanced Reciprocity In Marriage

In many cultures, the relationship between husband and wife is supposed to be balanced in most aspects. In addition to love and romantic attraction, which are hopefully reciprocated between the couple, other areas of the marriage should also be balanced.

For instance, both members of the marriage should possess, and display, mutual respect. When respect is one-sided, that can create quite negative feelings in the other spouse.

Being open and honest with one’s feelings should also show balanced reciprocity. A marriage is one of the deepest bonds that can exist between two people.

It is important that both people in the relationship are willing to share their feelings and inner-most opinions.

When one person shares, while the other withholds, it creates a wedge between them and can lead to a marriage that feels distant and cold.

Reciprocity is essential for a healthy relationship. Fortunately, there are many things a couple can do to foster balance and reciprocity.

2. Balanced Reciprocity And Employment Relationships

Employees are constantly monitoring and evaluating their relationship with the organization. This type of analysis is sometimes referred to as the “psychological contract.”

The psychological contract is defined as “an individual’s beliefs regarding the terms and conditions of a reciprocal exchange agreement between the focal person and another party” (Rousseau 1989, p. 123).

Parzefall (2008) was interested in the role of workers’ perceived reciprocity and commitment to the organization in Finland.

Over 100 Finnish workers in the social and health care sector responded to questionnaires which assessed: perceptions of balanced reciprocity, affective commitment and several other variables.

The results revealed that “The relationship between perceived balanced reciprocity and affective commitment was negative” (p. 1714). This means that as employees considered the relationship balanced, their emotional commitment decreased.

Those findings may seem a bit surprising, but the researcher explained the rationale when setting the hypothesis.

“…balanced reciprocity with its short-term focus and time pressure for reciprocation provides little reason for emotional attachment and identification with the organization” (p. 1708).

3. Reciprocity In Parent-Child Relations

Child-rearing requires heavy investment of time and resources. Parents make tremendous sacrifices for their children over a long period of time which are hard to quantify.

However, as the children mature, turn into young adults, and the parents become elderly, there is an opportunity for the scales to become more balanced.

Silverstein et al. (2002, p. 3) proposed three models to understand the connection to parental involvement and reciprocity of their children later in life.

(a) a return on an investment made earlier by the parent,
(b) an insurance policy in which earlier transfers to the child are recovered by the parent under conditions of need, and
(c) altruism and other nonreciprocal motivations on the part of the child.

The researchers analyzed data from the University of Southern California Longitudinal Study of Generations, which consisted of over 2,000 participants across three generations.

There were some interesting results:

  1. “…the return gained by parents is proportional to their initial investment…”
  2. “…when the early parent–child relationship was emotionally distant, had no time commitment, and involved no financial support—the amount of support provided to parents increases as they age” (p. 10).

These findings lead partial support for both models A and C.

4. The Social Contract

The notion of balanced reciprocity can function at many levels. In addition to being applied in relationships between individuals, it also has application in political philosophy.

For example, the social contract is a conceptual agreement between the citizens of a country and their government.

In exchange for protection and the provision of various public services, the citizenry agrees to obey certain laws and relinquish some rights.

Of course, the way the social contract theory is manifest is quite varied based on the type of political system.

In most systems there is a comparison of advantages of the government and the disadvantages of having no government. The citizens calculate this equation and determine if they are willing to comply with the demands of the government in exchange for those services.

The concept of a social contract has roots dating back hundreds of years. Thomas Hobbes offered a concise explanation of the logic in Leviathan:

“When a man thinks that peace and self-defense require it, he should be willing (when others are too) to lay down his right to everything, and should be contented with as much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself” (p. 43).

5. Balanced Reciprocity With Colleagues

We spend a lot of time working with other human beings. For 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (in the U. S.), our colleagues are always there. This leads to a large number of interactions that can range from rewarding and joyful, to irritating and dreadful.

It can be very easy to form close personal relationships with people that we spend so much time around. Not to mention the fact that colleagues often get together outside of work to socialize.

That can be a source of social fulfillment or a recipe for disaster.

There is also a steady flow of give and take. Colleagues share work tasks, collaborate on projects, and often exchange favors such as providing much-needed data or trading resources.

When those exchanges are not balanced and one coworker fails to reciprocate, it can create disharmony in the office and lead to feelings of mistrust and resentment.

Therefore, setting boundaries and practicing a professional demeanor with colleagues is the safest way to maintain a healthy work culture.

Types of Reciprocity

There are several other types of reciprocity: generalized, negative, and positive.

Reciprocity TypeDefinitionExample
Negative ReciprocityA form of exchange where one person gets more out of an exchange than the other. One individual clearly benefits more and the other gives more.Jim always gives a cheap birthday gift to his brother even though his brother always buys something very nice for him.
Positive ReciprocityA form of exchange where one party gives something to another with the expectation of receiving something of roughly equal value in return.Giving a friend a gift and expecting them to give you a gift of similar value in the future. Positive reciprocity can be balanced or generalized.
Balanced ReciprocityA form of exchange where there is an expectation of immediate or specific repayment of roughly equal value.When a person works in the gig economy, they offer their services for a rate they think is fair. The people who hire them agree to the rate, get the work done, and pay them immediately.
Generalized ReciprocityA form of exchange where there is no expectation of immediate or specific repayment, but rather a sense of trust and obligation to reciprocate in the future.Helping a neighbor move without expecting anything in return, but knowing that they will likely help you when you’re in trouble in the future.

Conclusion

Balanced reciprocity is when two people exchange goods or services of relative equal value. This is a well-established norm in many cultures.

When reciprocity is out of balance, it can lead to harsh feelings on an individual level, and economic trade wars on a global level.

Balanced reciprocity plays a key role in the maintenance of a healthy and happy relationship with friends, colleagues, and romantic partners.

Balanced reciprocity between workers and employers is also important. In advanced economies, workers have rights and will take deliberative action if they feel that their efforts are not being rewarded accordingly.

People are very good at evaluating the exchange of resources in all of these scenarios, and when they become unbalanced, the relationship may be terminated.

References

Coyle-Shapiro, J. A., & Shore, L. M. (2007). The employee–organization relationship: Where do we go from here? Human Resource Management Review, 17(2), 166-179.

Hobbes, T. (1651, 2012). Leviathan (3 volumes), Noel Malcolm, (Ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parzefall, M. R. (2008). Psychological contracts and reciprocity: A study in a Finnish context, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19(9), 1703-1719. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585190802295272

Rousseau, D. M. (1989). Psychological and Implied Contracts in Organizations. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 2(2), 121– 139.

Silverstein, M., Conroy, S. J., Wang, H., Giarrusso, R., & Bengtson, V. L. (2002). Reciprocity in parent–child relations over the adult life course. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 57(1), S3-S13.

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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