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

Journal of Experimental Political Science, Forthcoming

43 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2014 Last revised: 3 Mar 2017

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in Saint Louis

Kenneth Scheve

Stanford University

Date Written: March 2, 2016

Abstract

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.

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

JEL Classification: H41, C72, C42, C99

Suggested Citation

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

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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