Giulietti, C., Rettore, E. & S. Tonini
Journal of Population Econonomics – (2023) 36, 211–233


Abstract: Understanding the formation of trust is a key issue because of the impact of trust on economic performance. Earlier attempts to measure the strength of intergenerational transmission of trust relied on the cross-sectional regression of children’s trust on the contemporaneous trust of parents. In this paper, we take an original approach to the analysis of the transmission process by introducing the distinction between permanent trust (the long-lasting belief on whether one trusts people) and transient trust (capturing, e.g., random errors in the reported trust), and argue that only permanent trust is relevant for the transmission process. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, we show that 2/3 of the observed variability in children’s trust is due to the transient component. The remaining variability due to the
permanent component is only moderately determined by the permanent trust of the parents, with mothers being much more relevant than fathers. Focusing on the subsample of families with more than one child, we show that most of the variability in children’s permanent trust is due to unobservable family-specific features of the environment shared by
siblings. We conclude that while the family environment in which children grew up determines most of their permanent trust, the direct role of intergenerational transmission is small.