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How Durable are Social Norms? Immigrant Trust and Generosity in 132 Countries

  • John F. Helliwell
  • Shun Wang
  • Jinwen Xu

This paper estimates the global prevalence of social trust and generosity among immigrants. We combine individual and national level data from immigrants and native-born respondents in more than 130 countries, using seven waves of the Gallup World Poll (2005–2012). We find that migrants tend to make social trust assessments that mainly reflect conditions in the country where they now live, but they also reveal a significant influence from their countries of origin. The latter effect is one-third as important as the effect of local conditions. We also find that the altruistic behavior of migrants, as measured by the frequency of their donations in their new countries, is strongly determined by social norms in their new countries, while also retaining some effect of the levels of generosity found in their birth countries. To show that the durability of social norms is not simply due to a failure to recognize new circumstances, we demonstrate that there are no footprint effects for immigrants’ confidence in political institutions. Taken together, these findings support the notion that social norms are deeply rooted in long-standing cultures, yet are nonetheless subject to adaptation when there are major changes in the surrounding circumstances and environment.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19855.

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Date of creation: Jan 2014
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Publication status: Published online in Social Indicators Research on 09 July 2015 (DOI: 10.1007/s11205-015-1026-2)
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19855
Note: DEV PE POL
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