Free Rider Problem


The free rider problem occurs when individuals benefit from a shared resource or public good without contributing their fair share

Are you sick of making all the effort while others profit? Do you ever feel like you're being taken advantage of at work, school, or in relationships?

Fig 1: Free Rider Problem

You may be dealing with the free rider issue if this is the case. It's an aggravating condition that can breed hatred, lack of motivation, and, eventually, a breakdown in cooperation. But why is there a problem with free riders, and what can be done about it?

Meaning of Free Rider Problem

The free rider problem occurs when some people gain from a common resource or a public asset without contributing their fair share of the costs or labour required to produce or maintain it. This can occur in various contexts, such as workplace collaborations or public assets like parks and highways. The free rider problem is frequently discussed in economics, but it can also occur at various social places,

Understanding the Free Rider Problem

The issue occurs because some people may refrain from contributing to the cooperative effort, hoping that others will pick up the slack while they continue to benefit. It can lead to resentment and demotivation among those who contribute, undermining the group effort and causing it to fail.

Many techniques have been devised to address the free rider problem, including incentives and punishments, as well as social norms and cultural values that promote group activity and collaboration.

Offering incentives to those who participate, for example, or implementing laws and penalties for those who do not, can encourage more fair involvement. On the other hand, promoting a sense of community and shared responsibility can foster a culture of mutual support and cooperation, resulting in a more sustainable and effective collective effort.

Causes of Free Rider Problem

When some people gain from a shared resource or a public good without giving their fair share, this is known as the free rider problem. The causes of this issue are −

Fig 2: Add penalties for free-riding issues

  • There are no enforcement measures or penalties for free-riding behaviour.

  • Inequitable advantages or the notion that individual contributions have no bearing on the outcome.

  • Those who feel less responsibility for contributing to a larger group engage in social loafing.

  • Diffusion of responsibility occurs when numerous people assume that someone else will handle a task or project.

  • Failing to recognise the benefits of group activity results in a lack of incentive to contribute.

Ways to resolve Free Rider Problem

The free rider problem can stymie collective activity and cooperation, but several solutions exist. Among the possible solutions are −

  • Creating Explicit Norms and Penalties − People are more likely to pay their fair part when they understand what is expected of them and the repercussions for not cooperating. Establishing clear expectations and repercussions for non-cooperation is part of this solution. It is critical to ensure that these rules and sanctions are effectively communicated to all members of the group.

  • Offering Incentives − Giving rewards or benefits to those who can encourage people to participate more. These incentives can be monetary, social, or other types of rewards that group members value.

Fig 3: Encourage more participants and rewards

  • Creating a Feeling of Community − People are more likely to cooperate and contribute when they feel connected to a common objective. This method entails creating a group's shared identity and purpose.

  • Promoting Transparency − Transparency promotes accountability and reduces the risk of free riding by making group action processes and outcomes more transparent. Open communication, regular progress reports, and the sharing of decision-making processes can all contribute to this.

  • Encouraging Reciprocity − Emphasising the value of mutual assistance and helping others foster a collaborative culture and prevent free-riding. Individuals are less inclined to shirk their obligations and more willing to contribute to the group objective if a culture of mutual support and collaboration is established.

    Promoting a culture of giving and receiving feedback, encouraging members to help one other, and providing clear norms for cooperation are all examples of strategies to enhance reciprocity.

  • Developing a Sense of Ownership − When people have a sense of ownership over a shared resource or public good, they are more likely to feel responsible for its care and maintenance.

    Including members in decision-making processes, allowing for input and feedback, and encouraging members to take pleasure in their contributions are all examples of strategies to foster a sense of ownership.

Examples of Free Rider Problem

  • Example 1: Workplace collaborations − A free rider is a worker who reaps the rewards of their co-workers’ combined efforts without chipping in their fair share. An employee might, for instance, claim credit for a group project without contributing their fair share of work. This can lead to decreased morale and cooperation among the team members, ultimately undermining the project's success.

  • Example 2: Public transportation − Another example of a shared resource open to free-riding is public transportation. Some individuals may use public transport without paying their fare, leading to a loss of revenue for the transportation system. Higher fares for those who pay may result from this, which may cause resentment and a sense of unfairness. In extreme situations, it might decrease the service level or accessibility of the transportation system as resources are diverted to deal with the free-riding problem.


The free rider problem can be a big test to aggregate activity and participation in different settings. Understanding the potential arrangements of this issue guarantees that everybody contributes their good part. By advancing straightforwardness, trust, and correspondence and making a feeling of responsibility lessens the negative effects of free riding and constructs a more cooperative society.


Q1. How can incentives be used to combat the problem of free riders?

Ans. Rewards or benefits for contributors encourage greater participation and reduce the likelihood of free riding.

Q2. Why does the free rider problem hinder cooperation and collective action?

Ans. The free rider problem creates a situation where some people gain without contributing their fair share, breaching the social contract of mutual support and collective action.

Q3. What role does technology play in addressing the issue of free riders?

Ans. Individual contributions can be tracked, and feedback can be provided through technology, which reduces the likelihood of free riding and increases transparency and accountability.

Updated on: 26-Apr-2023


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