WP 72 | 14 Groups and Trust: Experimental Evidence on the Olson and Putnam Hypotheses

Publication date: 19 March 2014
Research areas: Economic theory
Publication categories: Working papers
Tags: volunteering, membership, democratic participation, partecipazione democratica

Mancur Olson and Robert Putnam provide two conflicting views on the effect of involvement with voluntary associations on their members. Putnam argues that associations instill in their members habits of cooperation, solidarity and public spiritedness. Olson emphasizes the tendency of groups to pursue private interests and lobby for preferential policies. We carry out the first field experiment involving a sample of members of different association types from different age groups and education levels, as well as a demographically comparable sample of non-members. This enables us to examine the different patterns of behaviour followed by members of Putnam-type and Olson-type associations. Coherently with both the Putnam’s and Olson’s view, we find that members of Putnam’s type (Olson’s type) associations display more (no more) generalized trust than non-members. However, when we examine trustworthy behaviour we find the opposite pattern, with members of Olson-type (Putnam-type) associations more (no more) trustworthy than non-members. No relevant effect for the intensity of participation in associations emerges.