Young man, did you see anything left lying around here?

Joshua Gans draws my attention to a cute US field experiment, which involved dropping 100 wallets, and seeing whether the finders returned them. While the sample clearly isn’t random,* it’s big enough that the age, gender and racial differences are all (by my estimates) statistically significant at the 95% level.

While young people, men and African-Americans are all less likely to return wallets, the thing that really stands out from the data is that if you drop your wallet on the ground, you really really don’t want a young man to find it. This is consistent with the fact that most crime is committed by young men.

* What I mean by this is that those who happen to be walking in public places aren’t a random sample of the population. To get a more random sample, they could have picked addresses off the electoral roll, and then left a wallet outside each house. But it might have been harder to get away with videotaping the finders.

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2 Responses to Young man, did you see anything left lying around here?

  1. Fred Argy says:

    Andrew, there also appears to be a city dimension to honesty. Reader’s Digest this month has an experiment with mobiles – leaving them lying around to see whether they will be handed back. Poor old Sydney comes out looking like a pretty dishonest mob and New York looks good! Of course there are sample problems.

  2. Andrew Leigh says:

    Fred, that’s a cute experiment indeed. The NY vs Sydney finding accords with my own experience living in the two cities – but it’s probably also relevant to know that the SIM cards in most US mobiles are locked, so they’re useless to the finder.

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