One lingering puzzle is why voluntary contributions to public goods decline over time in experimental and real-world settings. We show that the decline of cooperation is driven by individual preferences for imperfect conditional cooperation. Many people's desire to contribute less than others, rather than changing beliefs of what others will contribute over time or people's heterogeneity in preferences makes voluntary cooperation fragile. Universal free riding thus eventually emerges, despite the fact that most people are not selfish.
public goods experiments social preferences conditional cooperation free riding