Honest Czechs are seventh most likely in the world to return a lost wallet

People in six Czech cities scored highly when it came to returning lost wallets even when there was money inside.

While Prague in particular has a reputation for pick-pocketing, conversely Czechs are among the people most likely to return a lost wallet. The country ranked seventh out of 40 worldwide where wallets were left in public with contact information.

The top five most honest countries were no surprise: Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, which generally top surveys for positive cultural or political attributes. The next two perhaps were less expected. Poland and the Czech Republic were sixth and seventh. New Zealand, Germany and France completed the top 10, or first quarter of the ranking.

The worst countries were China, in last place, followed by Morocco, Peru, Kazakhstan and Kenya. Also falling into the bottom half were the US at 21st and UK at 22nd.

The results stem from a research project called Civic Honesty Around the Globe, published in Science magazine. Researchers left wallets with contact info for local-sounding names at various places. There were three types of wallet: no money, about $13.45 and about $94.15 in local currency.

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lost wallets
via Science magazine

“Civic honesty is essential to social capital and economic development, but is often in conflict with material self-interest. We examine the trade-off between honesty and self-interest using field experiments in 355 cities spanning 40 countries around the globe. We turned in over 17,000 lost wallets with varying amounts of money at public and private institutions, and measured whether recipients contacted the owner to return the wallets,” the researchers said.

For the Czech Republic, wallets were left not only in Prague but in Brno, Liberec, Olomouc, Ostrava and Plzeň with the names and information for Marek Pospíšil and Václav Korbel inside. Some of the wallets that contained money had CZK 170 and a shopping list for milk, bread, pasta and bananas.

Researchers thought that wallets with money would be less likely to be returned than empty ones, but the opposite turned out to be the case.

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“In virtually all countries citizens were more likely to return wallets that contained more money. Both non-experts and professional economists were unable to predict this result. Additional data suggest our main findings can be explained by a combination of altruistic concerns and an aversion to viewing oneself as a thief, which increase with the material benefits of dishonesty,” they added.

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In the Czech Republic, approximately 60 percent of wallets left with no money were returned, while close to 80 percent of wallets with money were returned.

The researchers even did an additional comparison between Switzerland, ranked seventh for corruption by Transparency International, and the Czech Republic, ranked 57th. For Switzerland, some 99 percent of wallets lost with money were returned with money intact. In the Czech Republic, it was 98 percent, which showed no statistical difference.

For returning wallets left at hotels, the Czech Republic fell to eighth place. The Netherlands, Norway, Croatia, Switzerland, Spain, Romania and Russia came in ahead. Kenya was in last place, followed by China.

When adjusted for GDP, Czechs rose to fourth place, with Poland at the top spot followed by Serbia and Switzerland. In this measure, United Arab Emirates was in last place.

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