The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa

August 2010
Leonard Wantchekon and Nathan Nunn
American Economic Review, Vol. 101, No. 7, 3221 - 3252.

We show that current differences in trust levels within Africa can be traced back to the trans-Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades. Combining contemporary individual-level survey data with historic data on slave shipments by ethnic group, we find that individuals whose ancestors were heavily raided during the slave trade are less trusting today. Evidence from a variety of identification strategies suggest that the relationship is causal. Examining causal mechanisms, we show that most of the impact of the slave trade is through factors that are internal to the individual, such as cultural norms, beliefs, and values.