Determinants of Trust: A Comparative Analysis

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Principal investigators:

Juergen Schupp

German Institute for Economic Research


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Gert Wagner

German Institute for Economic Research


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Sample size: 1489

Field period: 02/21/2005-05/05/2005


Trust is indispensable in markets, organizations, and politics. In the absence of trust among trading partners, market transactions break down. In the absence of trust in an organization’s rules and leaders, organizational efficiency suffers. Trust in previous research was measured using the WVS trust measure that is subject to criticism. We measure trust with a new survey measure in two nationally representative samples of the United States and Germany.


We compare the level of trust of people in the U.S.A. and Germany. Our baseline hypothesis was that there are no significant differences in the levels of trust in different societies.

Experimental Manipulations

No experimental manipulation


Trust-scale based on the last three question of the study

Summary of Results

We detect a large trust gap: people in the United States trust strangers more than people in Germany do. Based on variables suggested by economic theory, we can explain almost the entire trust gap. People in the United States are less risk and betrayal averse and exhibit higher levels of selflessness. Taken together, socioeconomic variables cannot explain this trust gap while preferences suggested by economic theory explain almost the whole gap.


Our results suggest that much can be gained if representative surveys focus their attention on the collection of preferences variables such as risk preferences and betrayal aversion.

Additional Information

The survey was a web-based survey of persons 18 years or older. A total of 2249 people were contacted. The survey completion rate was 66% giving a final sample size of 1,491 people. The surveys were received electronically between April 21 and May 5, 2005.


Naef, Michael; Ernst Fehr; Urs Fischbacher; Juergen Schupp & Gert G. Wagner (2007). “Decomposing Trust: Explaining National and Ethnical Trust Differences” Unpublished manuscript.