Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trust | Key Contributor to Sustaining Well-Being Outcomes

Trust vs GDP per Capita - Enlarge
Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (Aug 17, 2016) - Trust is a fundamental element of social capital – a key contributor to sustaining well-being outcomes, including economic development. In this entry we discuss available data on trust, as measured by attitudinal survey questions; that is, estimates from surveys asking about trusting attitudes.  

Who agrees with the statement "most people can be trusted"? It turns out the answer to this question varies hugely from country to country. In one extreme, in countries such as Norway, the Netherlands, China and Sweden, more than 60% of respondents think that people can be trusted. And in the other extreme, in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, less than 10% think that this is the case. 

[...] The Pew Research Center recently constructed a series of long-run estimates of trust in the government for the US, staring 1958. The following visualization uses their data, to plot the share of people who say they can trust the government in Washington always or most of the time. As it can be seen there are some clear patterns associated with political cycles, but in the long-run there is a negative trend. Today, trust in the government in the US is at historically low levels. The Pew Research Center has a dedicated website, with many interesting visualizations – including disaggregated trends by ethnicity and political affiliation. Further details and analysis available in the report Beyond Distrust: How Americans View their Government


In the US, the General Social Survey (GSS) has been gathering information about trust attitudes since 1972. To our knowledge, this is the longest available time-series on interpersonal trust estimates in the world. The following visualization uses this source to show the evolution of trust in the US. Specifically, this plot shows the share of respondents agreeing with the statement “most people can be trusted” in the surveys 1972-2014. As we can see, there are short-term fluctuations, but people in the US seem to trust each other less today than 40 years ago.