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Does Democracy Foster Trust?

  • Helmut Rainer
  • Thomas Siedler

The level of trust inherent in a society is important for a wide range of microeconomic and macroeconomic outcomes. This paper investigates how individuals' attitudes toward social and institutional trust are shaped by the political regime in which they live. The German reunification is a unique natural experiment that allows us to conduct such a study. Using data from the German General Social Survey (ALLBUS) and from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP), we obtain two sets of results. On one side, we find that, shortly after reunification, East Germans displayed a significantly less trusting attitude than West Germans. This suggests a negative effect of communism in East Germany versus democracy in West Germany on social and institutional trust. However, the experience of democracy by East Germans since reunification did not serve to increase levels of social trust significantly. In fact, we cannot reject the hypothesis that East Germans, after more than a decade of democracy, have the same levels of social distrust as shortly after the collapse of communism. In trying to understand the underlying causes, we show that the persistence of social distrust in the East can be explained by negative economic outcomes that many East Germans experienced in the post-reunification period. Our main conclusion is that democracy can foster trust in post-communist societies only when citizens' economic outcomes are right.

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Paper provided by DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research in its series Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin with number 609.

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Length: 29 p.
Date of creation: 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:diw:diwwpp:dp609
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  1. Stephen Redding & Daniel M. Sturm, 2005. "The costs of remoteness: evidence from German division and reunification," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51613, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Nichola Fuchs Schuendeln, 2005. "Good bye Lenin (or not?): The Effect of Communism on People's Preferences," NBER Working Papers 11700, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Fehr, Ernst & Fischbacher, Urs & von Rosenbladt, Bernhard & Schupp, Jürgen & Wagner, Gert G., 2003. "A nation-wide laboratory: Examining trust and trustworthiness by integrating behavioral experiments into representative surveys," Discussion Papers 2003/1, Technische Universität Berlin, School of Economics and Management.
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  8. Joachim Frick & Jan Goebel, 2008. "Regional Income Stratification in Unified Germany Using a Gini Decomposition Approach," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(4), pages 555-577.
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  10. Dohmen, Thomas J & Falk, Armin & Huffman, David & Sunde, Uwe, 2008. "The Intergenerational Transmission of Risk and Trust Attitudes," CEPR Discussion Papers 6844, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. Alesina, Alberto F & La Ferrara, Eliana, 2000. "Who Trusts Others?," CEPR Discussion Papers 2646, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  12. Berg Joyce & Dickhaut John & McCabe Kevin, 1995. "Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 122-142, July.
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  14. Harald Uhlig, 2006. "Regional Labor Markets, Network Externalities and Migration: The Case of German Reunification," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2006-004, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
  15. Ockenfels, Axel & Weimann, Joachim, 1999. "Types and patterns: an experimental East-West-German comparison of cooperation and solidarity," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 275-287, February.
  16. Helmut Rainer & Thomas Siedler, 2006. "Does Democracy Foster Trust?," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 609, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  17. Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Laibson, David I. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Soutter, Christine L., 2000. "Measuring Trust," Scholarly Articles 4481497, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  18. Jennifer Hunt, 2006. "Staunching Emigration from East Germany: Age and the Determinants of Migration," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 4(5), pages 1014-1037, 09.
  19. Dennis J. Snower & Christian Merkl, 2006. "The Caring Hand that Cripples: The East German Labor Market after Reunification," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 375-382, May.
  20. Joel Slemrod & Peter Katuscak, 2002. "Do Trust and Trustworthiness Pay Off?," NBER Working Papers 9200, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. 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.
  22. Bernd Görzig & Martin Gornig & Axel Werwatz, 2006. "East Germany’s Wage Gap: A non-parametric decomposition based on establishment characteristics," SFB 649 Discussion Papers SFB649DP2006-044, Sonderforschungsbereich 649, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.
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  24. Fuchs-Schundeln, Nicola & Alesina, Alberto, 2007. "Good-Bye Lenin (Or Not?): The Effect of Communism on People's Preferences," Scholarly Articles 4553032, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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