Public Goods and the Causal Effect of Expected Cooperation in Representative Samples

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in Saint Louis

Kenneth Scheve

Stanford University

March 2, 2016

When do societies succeed to provide public goods? Previous research emphasizes that cooperation in public goods games correlates positively with expectations about cooperation by others among students and other demographic subgroups. However, we still lack knowledge about whether the effect of expected cooperation is causal and a general feature of populations. We fielded representative surveys (N=8,500) in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States that included a public goods game in combination with a novel between-subjects experiment. We find that higher expected cooperation by others causes a significant increase in individual contributions. When classifying individuals' contribution schedules we find that almost 50% of the population employs a positively reciprocal strategy. These individuals are richer, younger and more educated. Our results help explain the varying success of societal groups in overcoming collective action problems and may assist policymakers in the design of political institutions meant to solve social dilemmas.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 43

Keywords: public goods, cooperation, reciprocity, social dilemmas, respresentative samples, survey experiments, causal effects

JEL Classification: H41, C72, C42, C99

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Date posted: April 4, 2014 ; Last revised: March 3, 2016

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Scheve, Kenneth, Public Goods and the Causal Effect of Expected Cooperation in Representative Samples (March 2, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2419678 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2419678

Contact Information

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)
Washington University in Saint Louis ( email )
Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States
Kenneth F. Scheve
Stanford University ( email )
Stanford, CA 94305
United States
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