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A Global Experiment to Measure Real-World Social Trust
Social trust is considered key for social, political, and economic development. But what does social trust look like in the real world? Who trusts whom, and with what? We seek to answer these questions using data from n=21,000 randomized interactions in 7 countries across the world: Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, and the U.S. These interactions measure patterns of cooperation among strangers from different social groups. With a team of confederates, we randomly select pedestrians, and manipulate: (1) the type of interaction they are faced with -- and thus the level of trust required (dropping groceries, asking for directions, asking to borrow a cell phone); (2) the confederates' gender; (3) the confederates' ethnicity; and (4) the confederates’ socio-economic status. We find remarkably stable patterns across and within experiments. In every country, in every experiment, strangers help and trust women significantly more than men. Yet women are significantly less likely to help and to trust — in spite of women being consistently more pro-social and trusting in lab games and surveys. Wealthy pedestrians are significantly more likely both to trust and be trusted, relative to those from the middle or lower classes. We find a similar advantage for white pedestrians. The distrust and discomfort we find among women, ethnic minorities, and the non-wealthy — even toward members of their social group — suggests that real-world interactions between strangers capture a unique dimension of social trust. We theorize that real-world social trust captures a mix of safety concerns, (regressive) social norms, and discrimination — in ways that ultimately shape social cohesion and community belonging.
Written with Saad Gulzar, Princeton University