Does Inequality Erode Social Trust? Results from Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Multilevel Models for U.S. States

MH Fairbrother, IW Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Previous research has argued that income inequality reduces people's trust in other people, and that declining social trust in the United States in recent decades has been due to rising levels of income inequality. Using multilevel models of data from the General Social Survey, this paper substantially qualifies these arguments. We show that while people are indeed less trusting in U.S. states with higher income inequality, this association holds only cross-sectionally, not longitudinally; since the 1970s, states experiencing larger increases in inequality have not suffered systematically larger declines in trust. We therefore argue for caution in interpreting the association between inequality and trust as causal. The evidence is broadly consistent with the idea that inequality conditions trust in the long run, but such a conclusion remains speculative, and the declining trust of recent decades cannot be attributed to rising inequality.
Translated title of the contributionDoes Inequality Erode Social Trust? Results from Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Multilevel Models for U.S. States
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-360
JournalSocial Science Research
Volume42
Issue number2
Early online date27 Sep 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • Trust
  • General Social Survey
  • Inequality
  • Multilevel modeling
  • Longitudinal effects

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