Balanced reciprocity is one of three kinds of reciprocities in sociology. The other two are generalized and negative reciprocity. Balanced reciprocity occurs when people provide support or give gifts to each other in equal amounts.


Balanced reciprocity can best be explained by redistribution anthropology and reciprocal exchange, which refers to the exchange of goods and services among individuals. For example, according to research performed on small communities, social interactions and relationships between people are based on the mutual understanding of each individual’s circumstances.

For example, balanced reciprocity occurs when one individual is paid with free crops for her offer to help local farmers with their harvest. The payment is usually calculated according to the hours spent harvesting the crops. However, it is not given in the form of money, but rather in crops, such as free potatoes or corn. That is one example of balanced reciprocity that can occur in small communities.

Negative reciprocity occurs when one individual provides support or gives gifts to another individual, but does not receive anything in return. As opposed to balanced reciprocity, here, individuals aim to obtain goods and services without paying back anything in return.

Research states that negative reciprocity “is based on egoistic and exploitative motives of parties involved in exchange” due to the fact that each individual is only interested in receiving, rather than giving something in return. It is called negative, rather than balanced, because it involves negative consequences, leaving some individuals unsatisfied.

Generalized reciprocity occurs when individuals don’t expect anything in return for their goods and services to others. According to research, generalized reciprocity can be seen “in acts of hospitality, where a return favor is not expected or, if returned, then in a longer time span.” As opposed to balanced reciprocity, individuals understand that they might not receive anything in return for their services, gifts, or favors, and they are satisfied with that fact.

Research states that “[g]eneralized reciprocity depends on close social bonds,” meaning that generalized reciprocity can best explain the relationship between individuals who live in small villages due to their tight social bonds. Groups of individuals who live in such communities tend to “help each other” without asking for anything in return.

One more example of balanced reciprocity is related to disabled people, who aren’t always able to practice balanced reciprocity. For example, if someone provides support to a disabled person by helping her walk or take a shower, that disabled person might not be able to provide similar favor to the giver.

However, research states that a smile can sometimes act as “payback” or a “return gift.” Since this group of individuals has “fewer social bonds,” government officials are highly concerned about how a lack of reciprocity can affect them.

These examples explain that the practice of reciprocity in society depends on social groups. In small communities, for instance, generalized reciprocity is more present. On the other hand, balanced reciprocity is present in agriculture, where people tend to help each other in exchange for crops.