A ranking of countries by civic honesty

Click to enlarge.

To gauge the honesty of people in different nations, social scientists turned in 17,003 “lost” wallets to people in charge in various public businesses and institutions in 355 cities in 40 countries around the globe, and recorded how many of the wallets were actually returned.

Click to enlarge

One surprising result was that there was a higher rate of return with wallets containing a small amount of  money ($13.46) than of empty wallets, except in Mexico and Peru.

In three countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Poland, they also left wallets with a larger sum ($94.15),  There was an even higher rate of return for wallets with big money than just a little money.

This is contrary to what both experts and non-experts predicted.

Researchers thought that people made an extra effort when money was involved in order to avoid thinking of themselves as thieves.

Switzerland had the highest rate of return for empty wallets and Denmark for wallets with money in them.  European countries overall, including Russia, got high marks for honesty.

China had the lowest rate of return for empty wallets and Peru for wallets with money.  I am disappointed that the United States is so far down on the list.

LINKS

Humans are surprisingly honest when it comes to returning lost wallets by Katherine J. Wu for PSB NOVA.

Civic honesty around the globe by Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, David Tannenbaum and Christian Lukas Zond for Science.

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Afterthought [Added 7/1/2019]

I failed to point out the most obvious things that the charts show, which is that people in rich nations find it easier to put justice over self-interest than people in poor nations.

If the average citizen of the USA or the UK were as poor as the average citizen of Peru or Morocco, I don’t think they’d be any more willing to return lost wallets than those citizens.

Also, the level of honesty is highest in nations were a high level of economic justice, such as Switzerland and Denmark. If you have a sense that you live in a society that is fair and justice, it is easier to be fair and just yourself.

China is a civilization with a higher degree of cohesiveness than the other individual countries on the chart. Evidently a high degree national solidarity and unity do not necessarily translate into a high degree of concern with strangers.

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6 Responses to “A ranking of countries by civic honesty”

  1. Benjamin David Steele Says:

    I don’t feel disappointed about the US ranking. Or at least I don’t feel surprised. On many measures, the US often ranks around the middle. We are a middling country, maybe slightly above average.

    You see this with measures of culture of trust, democracy, freedom of press, health outcomes, education quality, etc. We tend to be above the worst countries and below the best. This has been the state of the country for many decades now. But when you were younger, the US was often the top ranking country in the world on numerous measures. Hence, your disappointment.

    Consider height. Americans used to be the tallest population on the planet. Now we share a ranking of 32nd with Israel, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Italy, French Polynesia, Grenada, and Tonga. Height is one of those indicators of the general health of a society and correlates with such things as inequality. We Americans on average are taller than 82 other countries.

    So, not bad. But still a major drop compared to the past. We are a declining society in many ways, specifically relative to other countries that are advancing.

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  2. We get what we pay for. | Marmalade Says:

    […] A ranking of countries by civic honesty […]

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  3. Fred (Au Naturel) Says:

    Big difference between money and no money in the US. I suspect that may have to do with the loss of money being seen as a real hardship and loss of generic wallet not so much. If you only count wallets with money, the US and UK move up a few notches.

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  4. philebersole Says:

    I failed to point out the most obvious things that the charts show, which is that people in rich nations find it easier to put justice over self-interest than people in poor nations.

    If the average citizen of the USA or the UK were as poor as the average citizen of Peru or Morocco, I don’t think they’d be any more willing to return lost wallets than those citizens.

    Also, the level of honesty is highest in nations were a high level of economic justice, such as Switzerland and Denmark. If you have a sense that you live in a society that is fair and justice, it is easier to be fair and just yourself.

    China is a civilization with a higher degree of cohesiveness than the other individual countries on the chart. Evidently a high degree national solidarity and unity do not necessarily translate into a high degree of concern with strangers.

    Like

    • Benjamin David Steele Says:

      “people in rich nations find it easier to put justice over self-interest than people in poor nations.”

      When even a small amount of money might determine whether your family eats a meal that day or goes hungry, it would be harder to choose moral principle in returning a stranger’s wallet over the health and well-being of your loved ones.

      “If you have a sense that you live in a society that is fair and justice, it is easier to be fair and just yourself.”

      That is culture of trust. The US is middling. We aren’t bad on this measure, but we are far from the high standards of Japan and the Nordic countries. There is no way to have a culture of trust without economic justice.

      “China is a civilization with a higher degree of cohesiveness than the other individual countries on the chart.”

      I wonder about that. Are they really more cohesive? Yes, they are a collectivist culture, but it is enforced through authoritarianism. If the culture was truly cohesive, the people wouldn’t be violently forced to obey. The Chinese have on occasion revolted before being viciously put down. The social dynamics of authoritarianism are different.

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  5. Links — August 4 – Life And Then Some Says:

    […] A ranking of countries by civic honesty […]

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