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Explaining Changing Trust Trends in America

Author Affiliations

  • 1Department of Political Science, Purdue University-Calumet, Indiana, UNITED STATES
  • 2 Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University, Illinois, UNITED STATES
  • 3 Res. Asst., Dept. of Political Science, Purdue University-Calumet, Indiana, UNITED STATES

Int. Res. J. Social Sci., Volume 2, Issue (1), Pages 7-13, January,14 (2013)


It is understood that high levels of generalized trust are necessary for a well-functioning democracy. Since the mid-1980s, however, trust in America has declined dramatically and has not returned to the same levels since. What explains this trend? We use two approaches to explain changing attitudes toward trust in others using data from the NORC General Social Surveys. First, we conduct age-period-cohort (A-P-C) analyses showing that generational replacement is having a negative impact on trust levels. That is, more trusting generations of Americans have been dying and being replaced by younger, less trusting Americans. Second, we pool cross-sectional survey data to model declining trust, and we show how trust in others is influenced by individual factors, and how these patterns change over time.


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