Alain Cohn, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

"The Honest Citizen: Evidence from Nationwide Field Experiments"


We use nationwide field experiments to collect a behavioral measure of civic honesty in 68 cities across the United Kingdom, Poland and the United States. Specifically, we turned in 2,932 apparently lost wallets at public and private institutions and then measured whether the recipients contacted the owner to return the wallet.

Despite the greater incentive to steal, we find that higher amounts of money left in a wallet increase the likelihood that people report the wallet. We argue that a combination of altruism and theft aversion provides a plausible mechanism for the increase in the reporting rate. An additional treatment and nationally representative survey experiments support the proposed mechanism. Overall, the results suggest that non-pecuniary motives to behave honestly can dominate material incentives, even under considerable stakes up to almost 100 US dollars.

Contact person: Marco Piovesan