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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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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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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