Trust and Growth

40 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 1998

See all articles by Paul J. Zak

Paul J. Zak

Claremont Graduate University - Center for Neuroeconomics Studies

Stephen Knack

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 18, 1998


Why does trust vary so substantially across countries? How does trust affect growth? This paper presents a general equilibrium growth model in which heterogeneous agents transact and face a moral hazard problem. Agents in this world may trust those with whom they transact, but they also have the opportunity to invest resources in verifying the truthfulness of claims made by transactors. We characterize the social, economic and institutional environments in which trust will be high and show that low trust environments reduce the rate of investment and thus the economy's growth rate. Further, we show that very low trust societies can be caught in a poverty trap. The predictions of the model are examined empirically for a cross-section of countries and have substantial support in the data. Trust is higher in more ethnically, socially and economically homogeneous societies and where legal and social mechanisms for constraining opportunism are better developed. High-trust societies, in turn, exhibit higher rates of investment and growth.

JEL Classification: D9, D82, D31

Suggested Citation

Zak, Paul J. and Knack, Stephen, Trust and Growth (September 18, 1998). Available at SSRN: or

Paul J. Zak (Contact Author)

Claremont Graduate University - Center for Neuroeconomics Studies ( email )

160 E. 10th St.
Claremont, CA 91711-6165
United States

Stephen Knack

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202-458-9712 (Phone)


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