trust in the u.s. by generation

t.greer, in discussing the relationship between trust and diversity in the u.s. and putnam’s Bowling Alone and E Pluribus Unum [pdf], said in a comment yesterday:

“As Putnam notes there, most of the change we are talking about here is generational – that is to say, the problem is not that people became less trusting over time, but that the next generation down the line does not inherit the trust of their parents. The ‘greatest generation’s’ ability to trust did not decrease as the number of immigrants increased, or as America desegregated, or anything like that. They went to their graves with about as much as trust and social solidarity as they had back in the 40s.”

i thought i’d check that, so i dove into the gss today. here’s what i found when i looked by generation (i used the dates for generations on wikipedia) at who replied that people CAN be trusted [TRUST] for the years 1972, 1980, 1990, and 2000 [click on chart for LARGER view]:

gss - people can be trusted - by generation

so, while it appears to be true that both the baby boomers and generation x did start off with much less trust in their fellow humans than either the greatest generation or the silent generation, the members of both the greatest and silent generations have, indeed, lost a good deal of faith in their fellow americans. the greatest generation’s trust doesn’t seem to have dropped until round about 2000 when they would’ve been aged 76+, but the silent generation went all cyncial by 1990 when they were between ages 26 and 44 45 and 65 (oops! sorry).

trust is in decline in america, and it’s NOT just a generational thing. and the first dip that we can pick up here in the gss happened sometime in the ’90s.
_____

gss parameters used: TRUST, YEAR, and AGE OF RESPONDENT

Generation X – 1990 – n=109
Generation X – 2000 – n=552
Baby Boomers – 1972 – n=283
Baby Boomers – 1980 – n=543
Baby Boomers – 1990 – n=400
Baby Boomers – 2000 – n=754
Silent Generation – 1972 – n=609
Silent Generation – 1980 – n=458
Silent Generation – 1990 – n=221
Silent Generation – 2000 – n=399
Greatest Generation – 1972 – n=571
Greatest Generation – 1980 – n=410
Greatest Generation – 1990 – n=168
Greatest Generation – 2000 – n=129
Lost Generation – 1972 – n=129
Lost Generation – 1980 – n-41
_____

previously: putnam’s paradise and “the community-diversity dialectic” and the “happiest, healthiest” community in the u.s. and on being trusting

(note: comments do not require an email. oh, hai!)

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22 Comments

  1. @jayman – “Now is this Whites only?”

    no, this is everybody. but i can do whites only (another day!).

    edit: if the numbers are big enough. prolly will be.

    Reply

  2. There is a great book called “Generations” by Strauss and Howe. Their four generation cycle makes quite a bit of sense. I haven’t read their later books so I am not sure that I trust their attempt to extend the theory back far before the Puritan years, since the theory relies on the masses being able to influence events. Anyway, the years that they use for the generations work a lot better than the alternatives. For example the baby boomers are almost always defined as those born after the troops came home from WWII, so starting in 1946. Whereas Strauss and Howe start them in 1943. A kid born in 1944 isn’t going to remember the hardships of WWII, so his experiences will have more in common with those born a little later.

    I have noticed this accuracy of their periodization in my own life. My siblings and I straddle a generational divide and there is definitely a difference between those of us who fell on one side and those on the other. I can see it in my friends as well. Most surprisingly, I see it with my wife and daughter (from a previous marriage). My wife is 3 years younger than I am, and my daughter is 21 years younger that my wife. My wife and daughter are in the same generation and I am in the previous, and the generational divide is actually apparent.

    Reply

  3. It’s the durn internet and those evil cell phones. In 1994 when I first opened up my new “Internet in a Box” package in preparation to run it on my Windows 3.1 desktop, I knew, just knew, that is was all over. I realized then that this new global, instant communication would introduce a bloody schism into the soul of mankind and turn him on his neighbor.

    Humans are not supposed to be in such a heightened state of contact with utter alien strangers from around the world, exposed to all their odd viewpoints and values and disgusting cultural habits that are so unlike our own wonderfulness. I love the internet for it makes me lazy, but I hate it for it makes me less human.

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  4. Chick, I worked with the GSS trust data data extensively for Coming Apart, and it never once occurred to me to do what you did with them. It is an extremely cool application of the data. Your ns aren’t bad, but it would also be easy to expand them by using all the surveys. Charles M.

    Reply

  5. Or it can be something which went under a radar and is not something obvious, already proposed. Like, for example, real or perceived increased social parasite number and influence (parasites including sociopaths)

    Reply

  6. quick google:
    http://ranprieur.com/readings/americanpsycho.html

    “disturbingly, the prevalence of sociopathy in the United States seems to be increasing. The 1991 Epidemiologic Catchment Area study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, reported that in the fifteen years preceding the study, the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder had nearly doubled among the young in America, It would be difficult, closing in on impossible, to explain such a dramatically rapid shift in terms of genetics or neurobiology. “

    Reply

  7. @szopeno:

    “reported that in the fifteen years preceding the study, the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder had nearly doubled among the young in America”

    That is disturbing. It sounds like it’s a racial thing. Next, a measurement thing (Greg Cochran would have a few words on the reliability of psychological diagnoses, especially the accuracy of such when used to estimate prevalence from year to year). Third, assuming not accounted by the previous two, a dysgenic thing.

    Reply

  8. Well, of course one possibility involves the hypothesis that the lack of trust might very well prove justified. Looking back to the 1910s, we observe a world in which most of the American public had no idea that Woodrow Wilson was horribly incapacitated by a severe stroke to the point where his wife was for all practical purposes the acting president. In the 1930s, the vast majority of the American electorate had no idea that FDR was a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair. Even as late as the 1960s, most Americans didn’t know that JFK regularly used a pharmacopia of medications (including methamphetamines prescribed by a shady doctor) to keep going and that he was terribly ill, as well as a serial adulterer suffering from chronic venereal disease.

    Fast forward to the 1990s and after, and we encounter a world where information percolates throughout society at the speed of light. It’s truly impossible to imagine those kinds of secrets (FDR wheelchair bound and afflicted with polio, JFK a chronically ill womanizer) being kept for more than about a month nowadays.

    No wonder the Greatest Generation had such trust in their leaders and in their government: they hadn’t a clue what the leaders and their government were up to.

    Would the Greatest Generation have exhibited such trust if they had known what we know now? Viz., ugly info like the Tuskeegee syphilis study dating from 1932? Or if, say, the film and photos of the hired goons paid by Ford Automotive to beat Walter Reuther during the Flint Michigan sit-down strike in 1936-37 hadn’t been suppressed by the U.S. government?

    Reply

  9. @mclaren That is a very good point. Information dissemination technology certainly has sown seeds of social change (to view positively) and/or revolution in the past. Today’s Thomas Paine’s can get their message out in minutes and target just the people who think the way they do. It makes me wonder if the future of a world where everyone can get their news and ideas from those they agree with most is one of increasing balkanization. It may be that the great exchange of ideas brought on by the internet tears us apart more than it brings us together. Fascinating, especially because it’s exactly the opposite of what eutopian technologists have been promising for decades now. Of course it would not be a huge surprise to me that people who are great with computers had the wrong ideas about how they would affect people.

    ~S

    Reply

  10. I think JayMan has the right suspicions about the increase in sociopathy. I would reverse them, however, and suggest that measurement is the first problem to address.

    The number of true sociopaths is small in any population. If there is an increase in one racial/ethnic group’s # of APD’s, that may come from immigration (though immigrants might be less likely to be sociopathic – don’t know) or from the lack of social sanction on having children one cannot or will not care for. I am a big believer in heritability running the show, but incentives and disincentives matter.

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  11. @t – “There is a great book called ‘Generations’ by Strauss and Howe.”

    i think i’ve seen stuff online about their work/theories — maybe even on wikipedia, too? — have never read the book, though. i’ll check it out. thanks!

    Reply

  12. @socially extinct – “It’s the durn internet and those evil cell phones. In 1994 when I first opened up my new ‘Internet in a Box’ package in preparation to run it on my Windows 3.1 desktop, I knew, just knew, that is was all over. I realized then that this new global, instant communication would introduce a bloody schism into the soul of mankind and turn him on his neighbor.”

    windows 3.1 – ah! the good ol’ days! (~_^)

    can’t be the internet — not if these numbers are right (and they do need to be double-checked/expanded upon) — because the drop in the silent generation’s trust happened already by the year 1990 (the years in the chart there are the actual years, not decades). 1990 is a bit early for the internet to have affected americans’ trust levels so much.

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  13. @szopeno – “’…reported that in the fifteen years preceding the study, the prevalence of antisocial personality disorder had nearly doubled among the young in America….’”

    @jayman – “That *is* disturbing.”

    yeah! what’s up with that?! =/

    Reply

  14. @mclaren – “No wonder the Greatest Generation had such trust in their leaders and in their government: they hadn’t a clue what the leaders and their government were up to.”

    good point. i’ve personally known a lot of members of the greatest generation, and there was a general naïveté in the group. it was quite charming actually.

    (nowadays everyone’s so depressingly cynical. =/ )

    Reply

  15. @assistant village idiot – “I am a big believer in heritability running the show, but incentives and disincentives matter.”

    yes. very much so. important to keep in mind!

    Reply

  16. Hey HBDchick, bit late to this one, for future reference, the cohort variable, which is an explicit, might make this kind of analysis simpler than looking at the age and year and then working out the cohort from this.

    I had a go at repeat you analysis by recoding cohort to a set of generations using the Strauss-Howe schema, under the name gensh, and by recoding years to be group under decades, under the name decadegroup.

    I also recoded the trust variable linearly as trustlin, in which cannot has the value 0, depends 0.5, and can 1 (exclusing don’t know respondents).
    I think the way the GSS works, these are now basically public variables anyone can use or search.

    (The recode function on the gss allows you to group subsets of existing variables – see here http://sda.berkeley.edu/sdaweb/helpfiles/helpnewv.htm#Rrules).

    Here’s the comparison of means histogram, confirming your analysis –

    Reply

  17. @matt – “…for future reference, the cohort variable, which is an explicit, might make this kind of analysis simpler than looking at the age and year and then working out the cohort from this.”

    oh! excellent! thanks! (^_^)

    i don’t know half of the features available on the gss. whenever i look at any of the data there, i usually just paddle around in the baby pool (which is nearer to the poolside bar). (~_^)

    @matt – “Here’s the comparison of means histogram, confirming your analysis.”

    excellent! thanks for double-checking. (and thanks for looking at the entire decades. MOAR data! (^_^) )

    it seems as though the silent generation has lost a good deal of trust over time (maybe harder to tell with the greatest generation).

    i’m going to append your chart and your comment to the post, if you don’t mind. if you do mind, lemme know, and i won’t. (^_^)

    Reply

  18. Hey this is a cool blog you’ve got here, I got here from a link in an article by the great Ed West. :-P

    Reply

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