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The Right Amount of Trust

  • Jeffrey Butler
  • Paola Giuliano
  • Luigi Guiso

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. Our interpretation is that highly trusting individuals tend to assume too much social risk and to be cheated more often, ultimately performing less well than those with a belief close to the mean trustworthiness of the population. On the other hand, individuals with overly pessimistic beliefs avoid being cheated, but give up profitable opportunities, therefore underperforming. The cost of either too much or too little trust is comparable to the income lost by forgoing college. We develop a framework to take into account heterogeneity in the trustworthiness of the pool of people with whom individuals interact as well as the presence of heterogenous costs of trust mistakes. Both sources of heterogeneity drive the relationship between trust and income which is hump-shaped for all individuals. This framework allows us to show that income-maximizing trust typically exceeds the trust level of the average person as well as to estimate the distribution of income lost to trust mistakes. We find that although a majority of individuals has well calibrated beliefs, a non-trivial proportion of the population (10%) has trust beliefs sufficiently poorly calibrated to lower income by more than 13%. Our findings hold in large-scale international survey data as well as inside a country with high quality institutions and are also supported by experimental findings.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15344.

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Date of creation: Sep 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15344
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  1. Bohnet, Iris & Croson, Rachel, 2004. "Trust and trustworthiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 443-445, December.
  2. Guiso, Luigi & Sapienza, Paola & Zingales, Luigi, 2000. "The Role of Social Capital In Financial Development," CEPR Discussion Papers 2383, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Luigi Guiso & Paola Sapienza & Luigi Zingales, 2005. "Cultural Biases in Economic Exchange," 2005 Meeting Papers 234, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  4. Zak, Paul J & Knack, Stephen, 2001. "Trust and Growth," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(470), pages 295-321, April.
  5. Fernández, Raquel & Fogli, Alessandra, 2005. "Culture: An Empirical Investigation of Beliefs, Work and Fertility," CEPR Discussion Papers 5089, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Philippe Aghion & Yann Algan & Pierre Cahuc & Andrei Shleifer, 2010. "Regulation and Distrust," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/4km7l02j139, Sciences Po.
  7. Paola Giuliano, 2005. "Living Arrangements in Western Europe: Does Cultural Origin Matter?," 2005 Meeting Papers 189, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  8. Edward L. Glaeser & David I. Laibson & José A. Scheinkman & Christine L. Soutter, 2000. "Measuring Trust," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 811-846, August.
    • Glaeser, Edward Ludwig & Laibson, David I. & Scheinkman, Jose A. & Soutter, Christine L., 2000. "Measuring Trust," Scholarly Articles 4481497, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  9. Paola Sapienza & Luigi Zingales & Luigi Guiso, 2006. "Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?," NBER Working Papers 11999, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Nava Ashraf & Iris Bohnet & Nikita Piankov, 2006. "Decomposing trust and trustworthiness," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 193-208, September.
  11. Cox, James C., 2004. "How to identify trust and reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 260-281, February.
  12. Bisin, A. & Verdier, T., 1999. "Beyond the Melting Pot : Cultural Transmission, Marriage, and the Evolution of Ethnic and Religious Traits," DELTA Working Papers 1999-10, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  13. 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.
  14. 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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