December 20th: trust — a privilege for the few?

I mentioned in an earlier post that what has allowed Finland to relatively less badly in the pandemic is the high level of trust amongst its residents. In global studies, not only is trust correlated with GDP; it is also an important driver (or at least explanatoray variable for) people’s satisfaction with their lives. The cause-effect linkages are likely to be complex, but on a very basic level, being able to trust others surely has big positive psychological effects, reducing the amount of time your mind and body are in a “fight or flight” mode. [Lower stress, in turn, is associated with better health as well as resourcefulness.]

What I had not appreciated, at all, was the degree to which trust is a rare and precious phenomenon — one that I, as a Finn, had more or less taken for granted. In a combined dataset for the World Values Survey and the European Values Survey, when asked the following question, only 28% (of those who responded at all) say that most other people can be trusted.

Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you need to be very careful in dealing with people?

And, as shown in the chart, people in a higher income bracket within their country tend to be more trustful — perhaps because that indicates their actual experience in life, or because the social norms and expectations in their demograhpic are to be more trustful, which in turn may have advantaged that demographic relative to others in the country.

In the chart (where I’ve only shown a few countries to keep it visually appealing) there seem to be three groups of countries. Very high trust countries (Denmark, Finland, China) where higher income people (the right hand columns for each country) are somewhat more trusting than lower income people (left hand columns for each country); medium trust countries (Germany, UK, U, Russia), where higher income people are significantly more trustful than lower income people; and very low trust countries, where no-one is trustful, regardless of income level.

I’m sure there are some cultural challenges in interpreting these results. However, to play to steretypes for a moment, it is no wonder that the Danes are famous for their hygge when 80% of people say others can be trusted. This is a very different life from someone in the bottom half of the Indonesian income distribution, where 95% of people say it’s best to be very careful in dealing with other people.




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Tera Allas

Tera Allas

I help complex organisations make the right strategic decisions through innovative, insightful and incisive analysis and recommendations.

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