How Durable are Social Norms? Immigrant Trust and Generosity in 132 Countries

John F. Helliwell, Shun Wang, Jinwen Xu

NBER Working Paper No. 19855
Issued in January 2014
NBER Program(s):   DEV   PE   POL

This paper estimates the global prevalence of social trust and generosity among immigrants. We combine individual and national level data from immigrants and native-born respondents in more than 130 countries, using seven waves of the Gallup World Poll (2005–2012). We find that migrants tend to make social trust assessments that mainly reflect conditions in the country where they now live, but they also reveal a significant influence from their countries of origin. The latter effect is one-third as important as the effect of local conditions. We also find that the altruistic behavior of migrants, as measured by the frequency of their donations in their new countries, is strongly determined by social norms in their new countries, while also retaining some effect of the levels of generosity found in their birth countries. To show that the durability of social norms is not simply due to a failure to recognize new circumstances, we demonstrate that there are no footprint effects for immigrants’ confidence in political institutions. Taken together, these findings support the notion that social norms are deeply rooted in long-standing cultures, yet are nonetheless subject to adaptation when there are major changes in the surrounding circumstances and environment.

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the June 2014 NBER digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Information about Free Papers

You should expect a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


This paper was revised on September 10, 2015

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19855

Published: Published online in Social Indicators Research on 09 July 2015 (DOI: 10.1007/s11205-015-1026-2)

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Alesina and Giuliano w19750 Culture and Institutions
Krueger and Mueller w19870 A Contribution to the Empirics of Reservation Wages
Black, Arnold Lincove, Cullinane, and Veron w19842 Can You Leave High School Behind?
Isen, Rossin-Slater, and Walker w19858 Every Breath You Take - Every Dollar You'll Make: The Long-Term Consequences of the Clean Air Act of 1970
Doepke and Tertilt w19888 Does Female Empowerment Promote Economic Development?
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us