Public Choice

, Volume 130, Issue 1–2, pp 1–21 | Cite as

Determinants of generalized trust: A cross-country comparison

  • Christian BjørnskovEmail author
Original Article


The paper explores the determinants of generalized trust across countries. The findings suggest that only few variables can be considered significant. Social polarization in the form of income inequality and ethnic diversity reduces trust, Protestantism and having a monarchy increases trust while post-communist societies are less trusting than other. The findings also provide support for the use of a standard indicator as a stable measure of generalized trust and emphasize the importance of taking endogeneity seriously.


Trust Inequality 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J.A. (2001). The colonial origins of comparative development: an empirical investigation. American Economic Review, 91, 1369–1401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alesina, A., & la Ferrara, E. (2000). Participation in heterogeneous communities. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115, 847–904.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alesina, A., Devleeschauwer, A., Easterly, W., Kurlat, S., & Wazciarg, R. (2003). Fractionalization. Journal of Economic Growth, 8, 155–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Banfield, E.C. (1958). The moral basis of a backward society. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bauman, Z. (1998). Globalisation. The human consequences. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, T., Clarke, G., Groff, A., Keefer, P., & Walsh, P. (2001). New tools in comparative political economy: the database of political institutions. World Bank Economic Review, 15, 165–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berggren, N., & Jordahl, H. (2006). Free to trust? Economic freedom and social capital. Kyklos, 59, 141–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beugelsdijk, S., de Groot, H.L.F., & van Schaik, A.B.T.M. (2004). Trust and economic growth: a robustness analysis. Oxford Economic Papers, 56, 118–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bjørnskov, C. (2003). The happy few. Cross-country evidence on social capital and life satisfaction. Kyklos, 56, 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bjørnskov, C. (2005). Does political ideology affect economic growth? Public Choice, 123, 133–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. CIA. (2003). The CIA world factbook 2003. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.Google Scholar
  12. Claibourn, M.P., & Martin, P.S. (2000). Trusting and joining? An empirical test of the reciprocal nature of social capital. Political Behavior, 22, 267–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Coleman, J.S. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, S95–S120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Deininger, K., & Squire, L. (1996). A new data set measuring income inequality. World Bank Economic Review, 10, 565–569.Google Scholar
  15. Delhey, J., & Newton, K. (2005). Predicting cross-national levels of social trust: global pattern or Nordic exceptionalism? European Sociological Review, 21, 311–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Denzau, A.T., & North, D.C. (1994). Shared mental models: ideologies and institutions. Kyklos, 47, 3–31.Google Scholar
  17. Dufwenberg, M., & Gneezy, U. (2000). Measuring beliefs in an experimental lost wallet game. Games and Economic Behaviour, 30, 163–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Durlauf, S.N. (2002). On the empirics of social capital. The Economic Journal, 112, 459–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Easterly, W., & Levine, R. (1997). Africa’s growth tragedy: policies and ethnic divisions. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 111, 1203–1250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ekelund, R.B., Hebert, R.F., & Tollison, R.D. (2002). An economic analysis of the Protestant reformation. Journal of Political Economy, 110, 646–671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ferguson, N. (2001). The cash nexus. Money and power in the modern world, 1700–2000. London: Penguin Press.Google Scholar
  22. Freedom House. (2003). Freedom in the world 2003. The annual survey of political rights and civil liberties. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  23. Freedom House. (2004). Freedom of the press 2004. A global survey of media independence. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  24. Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: the social virtues and creation of prosperity. London: Hamish Hamilton.Google Scholar
  25. Glaeser, E.L., Laibson, D., Scheinkman, J.A., & Soutter, C.L. (2000). Measuring trust. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115, 811–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Glaeser, E.L., & Shleifer, A. (2002). Legal origins. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117, 1193–1230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Guerra, G., & Zizzo, D.J. (2004). Trust responsiveness and beliefs. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 55, 25–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Helliwell, J.F. (2003). How’s life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective well–being. Economic Modelling, 20, 331–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Helliwell, J.F., & Putnam, R. (1995). Economic growth and social capital in Italy. Eastern Economic Journal, 221, 295–307.Google Scholar
  30. Henderson, D.R., McNab, R.M., & Rózsás, T. (2005). The hidden inequality in socialism. The Independent Review, 9, 389–412.Google Scholar
  31. Hirschman, A. (1982). Rival interpretations of market society: civilizing, destructive, or feeble? Journal of Economic Literature, 20, 1463–1484.Google Scholar
  32. Hodler, R. (Forthcoming). The curse of natural resources in fractionalized countries. Forthcoming in European Economic Review.Google Scholar
  33. Inglehart, R., Basañez, M., Dĩez-Medrano, J., Halman, L., & Luijkx, R. (2004). Human beliefs and values. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  34. Katz, H.A., & Rotter, J.B. (1969). Interpersonal trust scores of college students and their parents. Child Development, 40, 657–661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kaufmann, D., Kraay, A., & Mastruzzi, M. (2003). Governance matters III: governance indicators for 1996–2002. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3106.Google Scholar
  36. Knack, S. (2001). Trust, associational life and economic performance. In J.F. Helliwell (Ed.), The contribution of human and social capital to sustained economic growth and well-being. Quebec: Human Resources Development Canada.Google Scholar
  37. Knack, S. (2002). Social capital and the quality of government: evidence from the US states. American Journal of Political Science, 46, 772–785.Google Scholar
  38. Knack, S., & Keefer, P. (1997). Does social capital have an economic pay-off? A cross-country investigation. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112, 1251–1288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Knack, S., & Zak, P.J. (2002). Building trust: public policy, interpersonal trust, and economic development. Supreme Court Economic Review, 10, 91–107.Google Scholar
  40. La Porta, R., Lopez-de-Silanes, F., Shleifer, A., & Vishny, R.W. (1997). Trust in large organizations. American Economic Review, 87, 333–338.Google Scholar
  41. Lederman, D., Loayza, N., & Menéndez, A.M. (2002). Violent crime: does social capital matter? Economic Development and Cultural Change, 50, 509–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lovatt, C., & Lovatt, D. News from Romania. Central Europe Review 3.Google Scholar
  43. Paldam, M., & Svendsen, G.T. (2001). Missing social capital and the transition in Eastern Europe. Journal of Institutional Innovation, Development and Transition, 5, 21–34.Google Scholar
  44. Putnam, R. (1993). Making democracy work. Civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone. The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  46. Rice, T.W., & Sumberg, A. (1997). Civic culture and democracy in the American states. Publius, 23, 99–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Staiger, D., & Stock, J.H. (1997). Instrumental variables regression with weak instruments. Econometrica, 65, 557–586.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Summers, R., & Hesto* A. (1991). The Penn world tables (Mark 5): an expanded set of international comparisons, 1950–1988. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 106, 327–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Uslaner, E.M. (1999). Democracy and social capital. In M. Warren (Ed.), Democracy and Trust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Uslaner, E.M. (2002). The moral foundations of trust. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Uslaner, E.M. (2004). Where you stand depends on where your grandparents sat: the inheritability of generalized trust. Mimeo, University of Maryland.Google Scholar
  52. Volken, T. (2002). Generalisiertes Vertrauen: Zur Reliabilität und Validität eines verbreiteten Messinstruments in Wirtschaftssoziologisches Forschungszusammenhängen. Mimeo, University of Zürich.Google Scholar
  53. Weber, M. (1992 [1930]). The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. Whiteley, P. (2000). Economic growth and social capital. Political Studies, 48, 443–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. World Bank. (2004). World development indicators. CD–ROM and on–line database. Washington DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  56. Zak, P.J., & Knack, S. (2001). Trust and growth. The Economic Journal, 111, 295–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zelmer, J. (2003). Linear public goods experiments: a meta-analysis. Experimental Economics, 6, 299–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Yamagishi, T., & Yamagishi, M. (1994). Trust and commitment in the United States and Japan. Motivation and Emotion, 18, 129–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsAarhus School of BusinessAarhus CDenmark

Personalised recommendations