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

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