Trustworthy grandma, trusting granddaughter

We understand surprisingly little about why some people trust, and others do not. Eric Uslaner takes us a step closer:

Where You Stand Depends Upon Where Your Grandparents Sat: The Inheritability of Generalized Trust
Generalized trust is a stable value that is transmitted from parents to children. Do its roots go back further in time? Using a person’s ethnic heritage (where their grandparents came from) and the share of people of different ethnic backgrounds in a state, I ask whether your own ethnic background matters more than whom you live among. People whose grandparents came to the United States from countries that have high levels of trust (Nordics, and the British) tend to have higher levels of generalized trust (using the General Social Survey from 1972 to 1996). People living in states with high German or British populations (but not Nordic populations) are also more trusting (using state-level census data). Italians, Latinos, and African-Americans also tend to have lower levels of trust, but it is not clear that country of origin can account for these negative results. Overall, there are effects for both culture (where your grandparents came from) and experience (which groups you live among), but the impact of ethnic heritage seem stronger.

I’ve done some work on trust and ethnicity in Australia, but mine focuses on the impact of neighbourhood-level ethnic diversity, which is in some ways less interesting than Uslaner’s angle.

This entry was posted in Social Capital. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Trustworthy grandma, trusting granddaughter

  1. Andrew Norton says:

    In reading the paper, I was very surprised by the proportion of Americans – 78% – who felt ‘close’ or ‘very close’ to their ethnic group. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a directly equivalent Australian question, but the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes found that ethnicity barely rated among the most important sources of identity (family and occupation were the major sources). Is this a transmission mechanism that works in the US that might not work here?

    (Hypothesis: Because Australia has an overwhelmingly numerically dominant ethnic group, it gives low salience to ethnic identity since it is not a particularly distinguishing feature or under threat.)

Comments are closed.