Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Trust: The Decline

Over the past four decades, the General Social Survey has been asking Americans this question: Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in life? During those decades, the percentage who say most people can be trusted has fallen steadily from 46 percent in 1972 (the first GSS survey) to 32 percent in 2010. What is behind the decline, demographically speaking? Are people losing their trust in others over time, or are younger less-trusting cohorts replacing older more-trusting ones? 

The answer is behind door number two: younger less-trusting cohorts are replacing older more-trusting ones. The percentage of 18-to-29-year-olds who think most people can be trusted has fallen over the years and was just 18 percent in 2010.

Within cohorts, the percentage who trust others has remained relatively stable across the decades. One cohort in particular is consistently the most trusting--people born between 1941 and 1950 (aged 60 to 69 in 2010). The 51 percent majority of today's 60-to-69-year-olds think most people can be trusted.

The 33 percentage point gap in trust between 18-to-29-year-olds (18 percent) and 60-69-year-olds (51 percent) seems like a profound statement about something.  

1 comment:

conradswims said...

Why? Did you ask the age groups why they trusted or did not? How did the west coast answer vs the east coast etc. The story is almost a waste of time.
Conrad