Lost Letters in Dutch Neighborhoods: A Field Experiment on Collective Efficacy

Beate Volker, Henk Flap, Gerald Mollenhorst, Veronique Schutjens & Wouter Steenbeek

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Volker, B. , Flap, H. , Mollenhorst, G. , Schutjens, V. & Steenbeek, W. (1). Lost Letters in Dutch Neighborhoods: A Field Experiment on Collective Efficacy. Social Forces, 94(3), 953–974. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/sf/sov106

Collective efficacy , ethnic heterogeneity , poverty rates , residential mobility , social cohesion , social control

A lack of collective efficacy in neighborhood is associated with social and physical disorder and related anti-social actions. It is less clear, however, whether collective efficacy in neighborhood also enhances prosocial, other-regarding behavior. We studied this association by employing the Lost Letter Technique in a large-scale field experiment. Our data stem from 1,240 letters dropped in a representative sample of 110 Dutch neighborhoods, combined with neighborhood data based on a survey of residents (SSND2, n=996) and information provided by Statistics Netherlands. We distinguish between two conditions (1) location of the lost letter, that is, behind a car's windshield wiper on the sidewalk; and (2) type of addressee, that is, a Dutch name or a Turkish/Moroccan name. When we decompose collective efficacy into social cohesion and shared expectations of social control, we find that shared control expectations clearly matter for the rate of posted letters. Social cohesion has no effect. Furthermore, a high percentage of non-Western residents, high residential mobility, and a relatively low local income level are negatively related to the rate of posted letters.

Main finding
Collective efficacy in sampled Dutch neighbourhoods was measured by dropping letters on the sidewalks or windshields wipers of resident cars to see if the letter would be posted to be returned. The chances of letters being posted were higher in neighbourhoods with high levels of control expectations. Fewer letters were posted in neighborhoods with low-income residents, a more concentrated ethnic mix, and more residential mobility. Shared expectations of social control was the most important factor in the letter being posted for return while social cohesion had no effect.

Description of method used in the article
This article employs a large-scale field experiment consisting of the Lost Letter Technique. Letters were left under the windshield wiper or dropped on the sidewalk. In total, 1,240 letters were dropped in 110 Dutch neighborhoods. Half of the letters were addressed to a foreign (Turkish/Moroccan) name and the other half were addressed to a common Dutch name. A survey of residents (SSNDS, n=996), which contains the most detailed information on personal networks existing in the Netherlands, was combined with information from Statistic Netherlands. Four neighborhoods were randomly sampled in each municipality of the 40 sampled Dutch neighborhoods.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Field Observations Survey
Physical types
Sidewalks Streets
Geographic locations