The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa

52 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2009 Last revised: 24 Nov 2022

See all articles by Nathan Nunn

Nathan Nunn

Harvard University - Department of Economics

Leonard Wantchekon

Princeton University

Date Written: March 2009


We investigate the historical origins of mistrust within Africa. Combining contemporary household survey data with historic data on slave shipments, we show that individuals whose ancestors were heavily raided during the slave trade today exhibit less trust in neighbors, relatives, and their local government. We confirm that the relationship is causal by using the historic distance from the coast of a respondent's ancestors as an instrument for the intensity of the slave trade, while controlling for the individual's current distance from the coast. We undertake a number of falsification tests, all of which suggest that the necessary exclusion restriction is satisfied. Exploiting variation among individuals who live in locations different from their ancestors, we show that most of the impact of the slave trade works through factors that are internal to the individual, such as cultural norms, beliefs, and values.

Suggested Citation

Nunn, Nathan and Wantchekon, Leonard, The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa (March 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w14783, Available at SSRN:

Nathan Nunn (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Leonard Wantchekon

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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