Associational Landscapes Increase Social Trust Only of Nonmembers

Posted: 12 Jan 2017

Date Written: January 10, 2017


Being at the center of social capital, voluntary associations are generally thought to play a crucial role for the functioning of civil society and democracy. Several studies, however, cast doubt on the contention that associations are the foundation of generalized trust. Our study goes beyond previous analyses: first by aggregating aspects of associations to associational landscapes, second by taking non-members into account. We argue associational landscapes matter particularly for non-members: Their social trust is either diminished since associations serve as what Fukuyama calls 'rent-seeking' tool for their members only; or non-members benefit from what Putnam calls 'rainmaking effect' of vibrant associational landscapes. To test both arguments empirically, we present a unique data set combining a survey among voluntary associations in 57 Swiss municipalities with a previously conducted population survey of their residents. Results of multilevel models give clear support to the rainmaker hypothesis. These findings bridge a significant research gap and contribute to our understanding of the foundations of social capital.

Keywords: Social capital, Voluntary associations, Generalized trust, Social participation, Civil society

JEL Classification: D71, D72

Suggested Citation

Born, David and Fatke, Matthias, Associational Landscapes Increase Social Trust Only of Nonmembers (January 10, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

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