Nobody in America Trusts Anyone, Says New Study

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Trust: It’s really important both for interpersonal relationships and for things like, say, having government that can function at all. Unfortunately, America is running on a serious trust deficit at the moment, if the numbers behind a new Psychological Science paper are to be believed. And the culprit, argue the authors, is inequality — when people feel that the rich are the only Americans doing well, their trust plummets as a result.

To the press release:

To examine trust over time, the researchers looked at data from two large, nationally representative surveys of people in the US: the General Social Survey of adults (1972-2012) and the Monitoring the Future survey of 12th graders (1976-2012). Together, the surveys included data from nearly 140,000 participants. Both surveys included questions designed to measure trust in other people and questions intended to gauge confidence in large institutions.

The data showed, for example, that while 46% of adult Americans agreed that “most people can be trusted” in 1972-1974, only 33% agreed in 2010-2012. And this finding was mirrored by data from 12th graders – while 32% agreed that “most people can be trusted” in 1976-1978, only 18% did so in 2010-2012.

The researchers say they found a long-link between income inequality and poverty and levels of distrust. The current era is not a good one on that front: “There’s a growing perception that other people are cheating or taking advantage to get ahead, as evidenced, for example, by the ideas around ‘the 1%’ in the Occupy protests,” said lead author Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University in the press release.

I don’t know why, but I trust her.