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

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hispanics don’t think of themselves as hispanic

from pew’s When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity, 51% of hispanics in the u.s. prefer to refer to themselves by their specific ethnic group (i.e. family’s country of origin):

they also don’t trust other people very much. whereas 35% of americans feel that most people can be trusted, only 12% of hispanics think so. and that includes just 13% of hispanics who were born and raised here but have immigrant parents (pew’s “second generation” hispanics):

and hispanics luuuuuv big government. even 3rd+ generation hispanics prefer big government much more than your average american (58% vs. 41%). no wonder big government loves them:

previously: trust me on this and mexicans think mexicans should be mexican and a sense of entitlement ii

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invention of the modern world

there’s a very interesting series of lectures by alan macfarlane on youtube in which he outlines, from an historical/sociological p.o.v., the things we’ve been discussing around here: familialism/collectivism vs. individualism, civic societies, trust — and why the english are so odd in all these regards.

i’ve watched two so far — the one on friendship & kinship and the one on associations, trusts & civil society:



about halfway through the second video, macfarlane talks at length about, and very fondly of, the english public house. (^_^) i ask you: is there anything better than an english pub (<< been there)?! (correct answer: an emphatic no!)

the lectures were given @tsinghua university, beijing, so he offers some suggestions to the chinese audience on how they can get china to be modern just like the anglo world. unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have offered any biological solutions (at least not in the two videos i watched), so i doubt they'll have much luck.

still, macfarlane has a lot of info and some good insights to share, so they're worth the watch if you're looking to chill in front of the "tv" for a couple of hours.

he's also turning the lectures into a book, apparently, which is currently being serialized on The Fornightly Review. not quite half of the chapters have been posted so far.

previously: but what about the english?

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the “happiest, healthiest” community in the u.s.

rural south dakota! (^_^) no, really.

luke asked: “OT, but maybe you can do some posts in the future on the ‘happiest, healthiest communities’ in the U.S., assuming there are some. Putnam, for example, has shown an inverse relationship between diversity and trust. So presumably he found some high-trust communities somewhere? Are they just neighborhoods in large metro areas? What about Lake Wobegons?”

well, i looked up putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum” paper [opens pdf] and, yes, he did indeed find some high-trust communities somewhere: rural south dakota, bismarck (north dakota), new hampshire, (moving to) montana, lewiston (maine)…. omg! it’s proximity to canada, again!

putnam looked at racial homogeneity in communities and inter-racial trust, racial homogeneity in communities and trust of neighbors, racial homogeneity in communities and intra-racial trust, and racial homogeneity in communities and ethnocentric trust. on each of these metrics, those communities with greater homogeneity just had more trust in all directions — the opposite was true in heterogeneous communities.

if trust means “happiest and healthiest” — and it sure seems to be important in having a functioning society (at least functioning as we know it) — then homogeneity is the way to go. of course, another important thing might be the *type* of population/subpopulations in a society — diversity might work okay if your diverse society is (mostly) composed of non-clannish groups.

here are some of putnam’s graphs for you to enjoy. click on graphs for a LARGER view (should open in a new tab/window — you might have to give ’em a click there, too, to view them full-size):

note that rural south dakota should NOT be confused with north minneapolis, which is a very vibrant community.

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on being trusting

ihtg said about trust: “Unlike IQ/g, trust isn’t (IMO) an innate personal attribute encoded within one person’s brain. It’s a variable in a man’s interaction with his peers. Its existence depends on that interaction.”

well, yes … and no.

clearly trusting someone else happens during an interaction, yes. and the level of trust will be higher or lower depending on the circumstances in which that interaction happens — it’s prolly much easier to be trusting nowadays in peaceful, middle class minnesota than in war-torn congo.

but being trusting is also a personality trait — being more or less trusting is something innate — at least partly. and, like all the other personality quirks, it varies from individual to individual — and from population to population. from “Heritability of cooperative behavior in the trust game” in which the researchers studied twins taking part in the trust game [pgs: 3724-25, link opens pdf]:

“Our results thus suggest that humans are endowed with genetic variation that can partially account for differences in trust and trustworthiness when interacting with anonymous partners in the laboratory….

“Although we do find that genetic differences play a significant role for behavior in the classic trust game, the largest portion of the variance is explained by differences in unique environment. This is consistent with general results from the trust game that indicate behavior is more susceptible to state (unique mood, context) than trait. However, a result that may surprise some social scientists is that genetic differences appear to be a more important source of phenotypic variation than differences in common environment. This finding is in line with a broad consensus in the behavior genetics literature. Indeed, the second ‘law of behavior genetics’ proposed by Turkheimer is that the effect of being raised in the same family is generally smaller than the effect of genes.”

swedes appear to be more trusting than americans to me. unfortunately, “american” is such a catch-all description, it’s difficult to know what sort of ethnic groups we’re talking about here (note that the americans had more options of how much to share than the swedes did):

and the heritability of trust amongst swedes seems to lean a bit more towards a genetic explanation than amongst americans. (interesting that the shared environments of the twins seems to have amounted to diddly squat.):

people who are more agreeable — as in agreeableness in the big five personality traits — tend to be more trusting:

“People who score high on this dimension are empathetic, considerate, friendly, generous, and helpful. They also have an optimistic view of human nature. They tend to believe that most people are honest, decent, and trustworthy…. [I]n general, people who are concerned about others also tend to cooperate with them, help them out, and trust them.”

i’m not very agreeable (32nd percentile). i just know i’m gonna wind up a cranky, old cat-lady yelling at the kids to GET OFF MY LAWN! (~_^)

previously: trust and i’m abnormal

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from the world values survey, 2004-2008 — Could you tell me for each whether you trust people from this group completely, somewhat, not very much or not at all? (i’ve only included the trust completely and somewhat numbers, which i added together.)

People you know personally:

People you meet for the first time:

People of another religion:

the most trusting peoples in the world (surveyed)? = the usual suspects. germanics, anglos, finnish, french. swedes most naive.

the least trusting peoples in the world (surveyed)? = chinese, romanians, peruvians (what’s up with the peruvians?).

italians = not so trusting.

update 11/23: the slitty eye wonders who the chinese respondents who don’t trust people of other religions are. me, too!

the total numbers don’t match, unfortunately, i’m guessing because the same data are not available for each respondent (that’s annoying), but if i include the cross-variable for “respondent’s religion,” we see that overall muslims in china seem to be the most trusting! that is if you add together “trust completely” and “trust a little.” more buddhists “trust completely” than any of the other groups. (i think we can ignore the handful of “orthodox” and “others” — well, all of these numbers are pretty small, so no doubt not significant in any way, shape, or form.):

here’s some info on where the world values surveys were conducted — again, the numbers don’t match. *sigh* according to these numbers, something like 23% of the interviews took place in xinjiang and ningxia, so it seems like we’re talking about a lot of non-han chinese in these surveys:

Selected countries/samples: Andorra [2005], Argentina [2006], Australia [2005], Brazil [2006], Bulgaria [2006], Burkina Faso [2007], Canada [2006], Colombia [2005], Cyprus [2006], Chile [2006], China [2007], Egypt [2008], Ethiopía [2007], Finland [2005], France [2006], Georgia [2008], Germany [2006], Ghana [2007], Great Britain [2006], Guatemala [2004], Hong Kong, China [2005], India [2006], Indonesia [2006], Irak [2006], Iran [2005], Italy [2005], Japan [2005], Jordan [2007], Malaysia [2006], Mali [2007], Mexico [2005], Moldova [2006], Morocco [2007], Netherlands [2006], New Zealand [2004], Norway [2007], Peru [2006], Poland [2005], Romania [2005], Russian Federation [2006], Rwanda [2007], Serbia [2006], Slovenia [2005], South Africa [2007], South Korea [2005], Spain [2007], Sweden [2006], Switzerland [2007], Taiwan [2006], Thailand [2007], Trinidad and Tobago [2006], Turkey [2007], Ukraine [2006], United States [2006], Uruguay [2006], Viet Nam [2006], Zambia [2007]

previously: trust me on this

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democracy in italy

been reading robert putnam, et. al.’s “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy” that i learned about via m.g. miles over @those who can see. (yes, that’s the “Bowling Alone” and E Pluribus Unum putnam. i have to say, the man has certainly done some very interesting research, despite the fact that he sometimes doesn’t like his own findings.)

in “Making Democracy Work,” putnam and his colleagues found that … gee whiz … democracy just works better in northern italy than in southern italy. way better, in fact. i haven’t finished the book yet, but the authors seem to put it down to the histories and political traditions of the two regions — and there is, of course, something to that. but there are even more obvious (at least to me), underlying, biological reasons that i think explain the differences: 1) different populations — broadly speaking, more germanic in the north, more greeks and arabs and others in the south; 2) the old iq differences; and 3) differences in mating patterns which, no doubt, affect social behaviors like trust. these biological aspects of the two(+) populations and their histories are all related — intertwined — next to impossible to tease apart.

i’ll write about putnam’s finding some more when i’ve finished reading the book, but for now, here are some teasers [pgs. 91, 94, 98-99]:

“The Civic Community: Testing The Theory

“Lacking detailed ethnographic accounts of hundreds of communities throughout the regions of Italy, how can we assess the degree to which social and political life in each of those regions approximates the ideal of a civic community? What systematic evidence is there on patterns of social solidarity and civic participation? We shall here present evidence on four indicators of the ‘civic-ness’ of regional life — two that correspond directly to Tocqueville’s broad conception of what we have termed the civic community, and two that refer more immediately to political behavior.

“One key indicator of civic sociability must be the vibrancy of associational life. Fortunately, a census of all associations in Italy, local as well as national, enables us to specify precisely the number of amateur soccer clubs, choral societies, hiking clubs, bird-watching groups, literacy circles, hunters’ associations, Lions Clubs, and the like in each community and region of Italy….

“Leaving aside labor unions for the moment, sports clubs are by far the most common sort of secondary association among Italians, but other types of cultural and leisure activities are also prominent. Standardized for population differences, these data show that in the efflorescence of their associational life, some regions of Italy rival Tocqueville’s America….

“Membership in sports clubs, cultural and recreational groups, community and social action organizations, educational and youth groups, and so on is roughly twice as common in the most civic regions as in the least civic regions….”

the most civic regions being in northern italy, and the least civic ones in the south.

“Although turnout itself in general elections is not a good measure of citizen motivation, one special feature of the Italian ballot does provide important information on regional political practices. All voters in national elections must choose a single party list, and legislative seats are allocated to parties by proportional representation. In addition, however, voters can, if they wish, indicate a preference for a particular candidate from the party list they have chosen. Nationally speaking, only a minority of voters exercise this ‘preference vote,’ but in areas where party labels are largely a cover for patron-client networks, these preference votes are eagerly solicited by contending factions. In such areas, the preference vote becomes essential to the patron-client exchange relationship.

“The incidence of preference voting has long been acknowledged by students of Italian politics as a reliable indicator of personalism, factionalism, and patron-client politics, and we shall shortly present additional confimation of this interpretation. In that sense, preference voting can be taken as an indicator for the absence of a civic community. Regional differences in the use of the preference vote have been highly stable for decades, ranging from 17 percent in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia [in the north] to 50 percent in Campanis and Calabria [in the south]….

“Regions where citizens use personal preference votes, but do not vote in referenda, do not join civic associations, and do not read newspapers are the same regions whose leaders [when asked by the researchers] describe their regional politics as clientelistic, rather than programmatic.

“Evidence from both citizens and politicians helps us trace the incidence of personalized patronage politics. Citizens in the less civic regions report much more frequent personal contact with their representatives than in the civic north. Moreover, these contacts involve primarily personal matters, rather than broader public issues. In our 1988 survey, 20 percent of voters in the least civic regions acknowledged that they occasionally ‘seek personal help about licenses, jobs, and so on from a politician,’ as contrasted with only 5 percent of the voters in the most civic regions.”

and, the inevitable godfather reference:

previously: democracy and endogamous mating practices and clientelism in greece

update 11/11: see also italian genetics

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germanic peoples are sooooo trusting

and they’ve been getting MORE SO over the last couple of decades! (and the italians, too, for that matter.)


from the world values surveys of the early-1980s** and the mid-2000s***, here are the percentages of people responding that “most people can be trusted” for the following countries (selected based on data availability):

so, while the peoples of many countries like the u.s. (slightly) and the u.k. (very) have become less trusting since the 80s, germans and scandinavians and the dutch have become more trusting. a LOT more trusting in some cases! sheesh. no wonder their countries are being populated by turks and somalis and iraqis and all sorts of foreigners!

in the anglo world, older folks tend to be more trusting (highlights indicate the cohort that is most trusting):

in other parts of the world (not including germanic nations), younger folks tend to be more trusting:

the most naïve and gullible trusting germanic + italian volk also tend to be younger:

previously: trust me on this

**Argentina [1984], Australia [1981], Canada [1982], France [1981], Germany West [1981], Great Britain [1981], Italy [1981], Japan [1981], Netherlands [1981], Norway [1982], Spain [1981], Sweden [1982], United States [1982]

***Argentina [2006], Australia [2005], Canada [2006], France [2006], Germany [2006], Great Britain [2006], Italy [2005], Japan [2005], Netherlands [2006], Norway [2007], Spain [2007], Sweden [2006], United States [2006]

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