The 2-Minute Thought: Trust Matters

Do you feel most people can be trusted?  What informs how trusting you are?  Are trust levels associated with education levels or religious beliefs?  How do levels of interpersonal trust vary across countries and over time?  And how do trust levels relate to GDP growth and income equality?

These are some of the questions addressed in “Trust” by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Rosen (full citation: Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2016) – ‘Trust’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/trust [Online Resource]).

Reading the piece and looking at the excellent visualizations reminds you of how important trust is.  Intuitively, trust lies behind every business transaction, as well as the social cohesion and civic engagement that underlie healthy economies. 

Among the findings:

  • The highest levels of trust are in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and the lowest are in Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. 
     
  • Not only does Sweden have very high levels of interpersonal trust, but that level of trust has been stable over time.  In contrast, U.S. trust levels have declined over the last 40 years.
     
  • Within Europe there are large differences in interpersonal trust among individual countries.  For example, more than twice as many people in Germany than in France agree with the statement, “Most people can be trusted.”
     
  •  In most European countries, people trust the police more than each other.
     
  • Religious people have greater levels interpersonal trust.
     
  • Higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of trust.   
        
  • Higher levels of trust are positively correlated with GDP growth and negatively correlated with income inequality.    
     
  • People who say they trust others tend to be trustworthy themselves.

The co-authors see more than mere correlation between high trust levels and GDP growth.  They cite studies showing that high trust levels have a causal effect on economic growth.  They also cite Algan and Cahuc (2010), who predict that African countries would have a five-fold increase in GDP per capita if they had the same level of inherited social attitudes as Sweden.

Source: OurWorldinData.org

Source: OurWorldinData.org

In the U.S., there are two interesting findings about declining levels of trust.  One is that public trust in the government has plummeted:

Source: OurWorldinData.org

Source: OurWorldinData.org

Another is that people in the U.S. trust each other less than 40 years ago: