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Social trust; generalized trust; welfare state; life course; cross-national research; comparative

Research project Social trust; generalized trust; welfare state; life course; cross-national research; comparative

Social trust is the belief that most other people can be trusted. Previous research shows that high-trust countries are healthier, more democratic and have higher economic growth than low-trust countries. Yet, we know surprisingly little about how and why trust changes over time. To fill this research gap, we make use of data where the same individuals are followed over time (panel data). Assuming that strong welfare states protect their citizens better from the consequences of negative life-course events, we test whether job loss, divorce, income cuts and worsening health affect social trust differently in different types of welfare states.

Project overview

Project period:

2016-01-01 2020-12-31


The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, 2016-2020: SEK 9,585,000

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences

Research area


Project description

Social trust, the belief that most other people are trustworthy, leads to many important societal benefits, including higher economic growth, lower levels of corruption and better public health. However, very little is known about when and why individuals' trust changes. This knowledge is vital to halt the trend of declining social trust currently plaguing many countries. Our project will fill this research lacuna. We take a life-course perspective whereby individuals' trust changes in response to critical life-course events, such as job loss, divorce, income reduction, or worsening health conditions. We will analyze data from three countries, each representing different types of welfare state regimes: Germany (conservative), Norway (social democratic) and the United States (liberal). We expect to find that negative life-course events will erode social trust in contexts where the state provides little or no welfare buffer. We will test this argument by analyzing longitudinal data from the German Socio-economic Panel, the Norwegian Citizen Panel and the U.S. General Social Survey. All three surveys observe individuals at multiple points in time. The results from this research will provide social policy makers with much-needed information about the most effective means of protecting and increasing social trust.