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Who Cooperates? Reciprocity and the Causal Effect of Expected Cooperation in Representative Samples

Journal of Experimental Political Science, Forthcoming

43 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2014 Last revised: 27 Aug 2017

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

Kenneth Scheve Jr.

Stanford University

Date Written: August 25, 2017

Abstract

When do societies succeed in providing public goods? Previous research suggests that public goods contributions correlate with expectations about cooperation by others among students and other demographic subgroups. However, we 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 and a novel between-subjects experiment. The experiment varied expectations about cooperation by others. We find that higher expected cooperation by others causes a significant increase in individual contributions. When classifying contribution schedules we find that almost 50% of the population employs a conditionally cooperative strategy. These individuals are on average richer, younger and more educated. Our results help explain the varying success of societal groups in overcoming cooperation problems and assist policymakers in the design of 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, Who Cooperates? Reciprocity and the Causal Effect of Expected Cooperation in Representative Samples (August 25, 2017). 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 St. Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Kenneth F. Scheve Jr.

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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