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What do cross-country surveys tell us about social capital?


  • David Tannenbaum
  • Alain Cohn
  • Christian Lukas Zünd
  • Michel André Maréchal


We assess the predictive power of survey measures of social capital with a new behavioral data set that examines whether citizens report a lost wallet to its owner. Using data from more than 17,000 “lost” wallets across 40 countries, we find that survey measures of social capital - especially questions concerning generalized trust or generalized morality - are strongly and significantly correlated with country-level differences in wallet reporting rates. A second finding is that lost wallet reporting rates predict unique variation in the outputs of social capital, such as economic development and government effectiveness, not captured by existing measures.

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  • David Tannenbaum & Alain Cohn & Christian Lukas Zünd & Michel André Maréchal, 2020. "What do cross-country surveys tell us about social capital?," ECON - Working Papers 352, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Feb 2022.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:352

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    Social capital; trust; honesty; field experiment; surveys;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • C83 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Survey Methods; Sampling Methods
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General

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