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An Experimental Study of the Effects of Inequality and Relative Deprivation on Trusting Behavior

  • Lisa R. Anderson


    (Department of Economics, College of William and Mary)

  • Jennifer M. Mellor


    (Department of Economics, College of William and Mary)

  • Jeffrey Milyo


    (Department of Economics and Truman School of Public Affairs, University of Missouri)

Several non-experimental studies report that income inequality and other forms of population-based heterogeneity reduce levels of trust in society. However, recent work by Glaeser et al. (2000) calls into question the reliability of widely used survey-based measures of trust. Specifically, survey responses regarding trust attitudes did not reflect subjects' actual behavior in a trust game. In this paper, we conduct a novel experimental test of the effects of inequality on trust and trustworthiness. Our experimental design induces inequality by varying the show-up fees paid to subjects, in contrast to previous experiments that focus on broad cultural or national differences in trust. We do not find robust support for the hypothesis that inequality per se dampens trusting behavior among all subjects; however, we do find some evidence that trust and trustworthiness are influenced by an individual's relative position in the group. Finally, we confirm previous findings that common survey-based measures of social trust are not associated with actual trusting behavior.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, College of William and Mary in its series Working Papers with number 14.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: 13 Jan 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cwm:wpaper:14
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  1. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
  2. Bellemare, Charles & Kroger, Sabine, 2007. "On representative social capital," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 183-202, January.
  3. Danielson, Anders J. & Holm, Hakan J., 2007. "Do you trust your brethren?: Eliciting trust attitudes and trust behavior in a Tanzanian congregation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 255-271, February.
  4. Buchan, Nancy & Croson, Rachel, 2004. "The boundaries of trust: own and others' actions in the US and China," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 485-504, December.
  5. Knack, Stephen, 2003. " Groups, Growth and Trust: Cross-Country Evidence on the Olson and Putnam Hypotheses," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 117(3-4), pages 341-55, December.
  6. Angus Deaton, 2001. "Relative deprivation, inequality, and mortality," Working Papers 275, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  7. Fershtman, C. & Gneezy, U., 2000. "Discrimination in a Segmented Society: an Experimental Approach," Papers 2000-9, Tel Aviv.
  8. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher & Bernhard von Rosenbladt & Jürgen Schupp & Gert G. Wagner, . "A Nation-Wide Laboratory: Examining trust and trustworthiness by integrating behavioral experiments into representative surveys," IEW - Working Papers 141, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  9. Alesina, Alberto & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2002. "Who trusts others?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 85(2), pages 207-234, August.
  10. Bellemare, C. & Kroger, S., 2003. "On Representative Trust," Discussion Paper 2003-47, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  11. Fahr, Rene & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2000. "Fairness as a constraint on trust in reciprocity: earned property rights in a reciprocal exchange experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 66(3), pages 275-282, March.
  12. Anderson, Lisa R. & Mellor, Jennifer M. & Milyo, Jeffrey, 2008. "Inequality and public good provision: An experimental analysis," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 1010-1028, June.
  13. François Cochard & Phu Nguyen Van & Marc Willinger, 2004. "Trusting Behavior in a Repeated Investment Game," Post-Print hal-00459746, HAL.
  14. Andrew Leigh, 2006. "Trust, Inequality, and Ethnic Heterogeneity," CEPR Discussion Papers 511, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  15. Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1998. "The Quality of Government," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1847, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  16. Engle-Warnick, Jim & Slonim, Robert L., 2004. "The evolution of strategies in a repeated trust game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 553-573, December.
  17. Abigail Barr, 1999. "Familiarity and trust: An experimental investigation," CSAE Working Paper Series 1999-23, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  18. Lisa R. Anderson & Jennifer M. Mellor & Jeffrey Milyo, 2004. "Social Capital and Contributions in a Public-Goods Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 373-376, May.
  19. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:112:y:1997:i:4:p:1251-88 is not listed on IDEAS
  20. Bouckaert, Jan & Dhaene, Geert, 2004. "Inter-ethnic trust and reciprocity: results of an experiment with small businessmen," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 869-886, November.
  21. Abigail Barr, 2003. "Trust and expected trustworthiness: experimental evidence from zimbabwean villages," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(489), pages 614-630, 07.
  22. Burks, Stephen V. & Carpenter, Jeffrey P. & Verhoogen, Eric, 2003. "Playing both roles in the trust game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 195-216, June.
  23. Anderhub, Vital & Güth, Werner & Engelmann, Dirk, 1999. "An experimental study of the repeated trust game with incomplete information," SFB 373 Discussion Papers 1999,97, Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes.
  24. Gachter, Simon & Herrmann, Benedikt & Thoni, Christian, 2004. "Trust, voluntary cooperation, and socio-economic background: survey and experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 505-531, December.
  25. BOUCKAERT, Jan & DHAENE, Geert, 2002. "Inter-ethnic trust and reciprocity: Results of an experiment with small business entrepreneurs," Working Papers 2002022, University of Antwerp, Faculty of Applied Economics.
  26. Roth, Alvin E. & Vesna Prasnikar & Masahiro Okuno-Fujiwara & Shmuel Zamir, 1991. "Bargaining and Market Behavior in Jerusalem, Ljubljana, Pittsburgh, and Tokyo: An Experimental Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1068-95, December.
  27. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:115:y:2000:i:3:p:811-846 is not listed on IDEAS
  28. Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Laibson, David I. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Soutter, Christine L., 2000. "Measuring Trust," Scholarly Articles 4481497, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  30. Nancy Buchan & Rachel Croson, 1999. "Gender and Culture: International Experimental Evidence from Trust Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 386-391, May.
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