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The Right Amount of Trust

  • Butler, Jeff
  • Giuliano, Paola
  • Guiso, Luigi

A vast literature has investigated the relationship between trust and aggregate economic performance. We investigate the relationship between individual trust and individual economic performance. We find that individual income is hump-shaped in a measure of intensity of trust beliefs available in the European Social Survey. We show that heterogeneity of trust beliefs in the population, coupled with the tendency of individuals to extrapolate beliefs about others from their own level of trustworthiness, could generate the non-monotonic relationship between trust and income. Highly trustworthy individuals think others are like them and tend to form beliefs that are too optimistic, causing them to assume too much social risk, to be cheated more often and ultimately perform less well than those who happen to have a trustworthiness level close to the mean of the population. On the other hand, the low-trustworthiness types form beliefs that are too conservative and thereby avoid being cheated, but give up profitable opportunities too often and, consequently, underperform. Our estimates imply that the cost of either excessive or too little trust is comparable to the income lost by foregoing college. Furthermore, we find that people who trust more are cheated more often by banks as well as when purchasing goods second hand, when relying on the services of a plumber or a mechanic and when buying food. We complement the survey evidence with experimental evidence showing that own trustworthiness and expectations of others' trustworthiness in a trust game are strongly correlated and that performance in the game is hump-shaped.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 7461.

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Date of creation: Sep 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:7461
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  1. Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Laibson, David I. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Soutter, Christine L., 2000. "Measuring Trust," Scholarly Articles 4481497, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. Nava Ashraf & Iris Bohnet & Nikita Piankov, 2006. "Decomposing trust and trustworthiness," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 193-208, September.
  3. Guiso, Luigi & Sapienza, Paola & Zingales, Luigi, 2005. "Cultural Biases in Economic Exchange," CEPR Discussion Papers 4837, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Philippe Aghion & Yann Algan & Pierre Cahuc & Andrei Shleifer, 2009. "Regulation and Distrust," Working Papers hal-00396268, HAL.
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  8. Giuliano, Paola, 2006. "Living Arrangements in Western Europe: Does Cultural Origin Matter?," IZA Discussion Papers 2042, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Guiso, Luigi & Sapienza, Paola & Zingales, Luigi, 2006. "Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?," CEPR Discussion Papers 5505, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Cox, James C., 2004. "How to identify trust and reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 260-281, February.
  11. Bohnet, Iris & Croson, Rachel, 2004. "Trust and trustworthiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 443-445, December.
  12. Huck, Steffen & Weizsacker, Georg, 2002. "Do players correctly estimate what others do? : Evidence of conservatism in beliefs," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 71-85, January.
  13. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
  14. Zak, Paul J & Knack, Stephen, 2001. "Trust and Growth," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(470), pages 295-321, April.
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