How far does the radius of trust extend?

I’ve long wanted to read a paper on this topic and I just ran across a 2011 essay in the American Sociological Review, by Delhey, Newton, and Welzel.  Most papers on trust work with general questionnaire responses, but those queries often conflate whether you trust the people you know, or the people who surround you, with whether you trust your government and other larger social institutions.  You can imagine for instance that a country could have strong interpersonal trust at the micro level but also lots of cynicism about its establishment power structures.

The innovation of this paper is to compare micro trust measures with macro trust measures and see where there are big differences.  Not surprisingly, the most trusting coutries, such as Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland, score high on both the micro and macro measures of trust.

The countries where asking the macro question makes the biggest difference in overall trust rank are South Korea (falls 18 places when macro considerations are considered explicitly), Thailand (falls 17 places), and China and Romania.  Argentina, Poland, and Slovenia gain the most in their relative trust rankings when the radius of trust is brought into play.  In general, when we account explicitly for the macro governance dimension, Asian countries decline in the trust rankings and Latin countries go up in the trust rankings by some modest amount.


Does Team Open Borders consider the level of trust in a society to be a relevant variable?

They ignore it, like they ignore all human differences.

I wonder if there is a relationship between pro closed borders types and both cultural knowledge and trust with regard to non WASPs.

Here is a critique using the same data:

From the critique: "An enormous literature has tried to explain differences in trust between protestant and Catholic Europe (see Peyrefitte 1995 for an early analysis of the bad effects of the counter- reformation). Bjornskov (2006) shows that Protestantism increases trust while post- communist societies are less trusting than others. Nevertheless, DNW have Catholic Italy, Catholic and former communist Slovenia and Poland next to Protestant Switzerland and Sweden at the top of their ranking of countries in which trust means “out-trust”. Looking at the individual responses and how they correlate, we find that in Switzerland just over half the
respondents are positive (answers 1 or 2) both on whether they trust people they know and also on whether they would trust people they meet for the first time. By contrast, no more than 10 percent of the Slovenes are trusting of both people they know and people they meet for the first time; two-thirds of them trust people they know, but have no trust in outsiders. Our alternative ranking will have Switzerland and all other protestant countries at the top, and Slovenia near the other end of the table."

Switzerland is religiously as well as linguistically heterogenous.

"Our alternative ranking will have Switzerland and all other protestant countries at the top"

Lots of Catholics in Switzerland.

What might be interesting to test is the level of trust within a country measured against its GINI coefficient: that is, if there is more wealth disparity, will there be less trust.

IN looking though your linked paper when I got to the graph for Egypt I recalled a saying someone once claimed was a typical mid-eastern/islamic view: Me against my brother, me and my brother against the family, me and the family against the clan, me and the clan against....

In almost the same thought I thought about the timing of the survey -- are people answering during times of cultural events (holidays -- such a christmas for chistians or during some neutral period of time)?

Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland: it's such a pity that the imminent Little Ice Age will treat these countries so harshly.

I wonder how translation affects these sorts of studies.

The question of whether you "trust" the government in the US has certain connotations. To many people in the US, to say that you don't "trust" the government is to connote extra things like believing in certain conspiracy theories. Believing in conspiracy theories in the US is not considered respectable and signifies one as low class, low status, poor, etc.

The independent variable that explains all of this data is homogeneity of population. If a country like the Philippines don't trust at the macro level, it's because there are three major language groups and something like a couple of dozen minor languages in this country. Likewise the USA, though largely historically Anglo-Saxon, has a lot of different cultures. Ditto Slovakia/Slovenia/Switzerland/Belgium/ France, not that homogenous. Nordic countries are all homogenous, well known. Italy is pretty homogenous except the north vs the south. Russia is also homogenous except the "stans" and Caucasus. Greece is pretty homogenous (albeit Balkanized) and by and large people trust the government (though they don't pay taxes, but that's another matter). Poland, Germany are homogenous. Africa is very heterogenous / non-homogenous. Kenya is one example; South Africa another; Nigeria another; I think all of Africa is that way except maybe Madagascar. So Africa will have problems with federalism according to my model, and sure enough, it does. You don't need no stinking data when you are a brainiac like me. Just do thought experiments.

Not sure I buy this trope. 21.9% of Norwegians have at least one grandparent born elsewhere, and 19.6% of Swedes were either born abroad or were born in Sweden to two parents born abroad. That's not that homogeneous.

does "abroad" include neighbouring countries?

You mean; "not that homogeneous anymore"

They used to be homogenues, and was so until twenty years ago.

It was the homogenus norway and sweden that created the exceptionally rich, free and wonderfull countries. And even today it is the homogenous part of sweden and norway that is in total control of all institutions, major companies ......

Seems like the test of that hypothesis is comparing the results of the Philippines against Singapore and see their response are statistically the same. If not then I think more is going on.

The why do China and South Korea come off as so untrusting?

South Korea is one of the most homogeneous countries in the world - closer in homogeneity to Iceland (where the government has an online app to prevent you from accidentally dating close cousins) than Sweden (which has had considerable 20th century immigration). China has ethnic diversity, but the when the majority makes up 90% or so of the total, and the minorities a geographically localized far from the center where international sociologists don't venture, it is homogeneous as a global values survey level.

@ohwilleke: South Korea is an outlier (Koreans are naturally untrusting of anybody outside their little close knit group, a world anomaly); China is not a free country so it also doesn't count?

@John - Singapore and PH are at different stages of development so apples and oranges, as mentioned downstream of this post; or, in the alternative, you could argue the success of Singapore and the level of trust therein is from a small group of ethnically Chinese (and hence homogenous) people.

Dang I'm good. I could be an Austrian economist. I don't even need to look at the data, the answers are all up here in my brilliant mind.

- It is baffling to me yet supported by observation that Latin countries would have more trust at macro level than micro. If anyone has a reason to be a cynic, it's people who have been jerked around in turn by socialists and kleptocrat oligarchs over and over again for a hundred years. Is your neighbor really worse than that? Guess so.

- I suspect macro trust is driven by somewhat different factors at different stages of development. At lower levels it's about are you the government no lie stealing my corn and at higher levels of development it's about how large are the political factions that want to take away my corn subsidy. If we all agree corn is a public good, corn farmers are really trusting dudes.

Yeah, I'm with you. Latin Americans trust their governments? Really? Man, talk about the triumph of hope over experience.

It's enough to make me wonder if this is actually measuring what it says it's measuring. Are Latin Americans saying something more like, "Well, we think our governments are very predictable [at being corrupt thugs]"?

Also baffled. My guess -- outside of data issues -- is that Latin Americans are assessing the govt they wished they had instead of the ones they do have. This is the end game of collectivist indoctrination.

Anectdata: I had this conversation with my brother in law's parents in Ecuador. The described a situation that went like:

a) your assumption should be that anyone not related to you is cheating and sees you as a potential mark
b) high trust private transactions are constrained to the extended family group. If you hire your cousin to be your delivery guy, your grandma will ensure he won't steal your truck.
c) everyone knows the best jobs are government jobs - it wasn't clear what was meant by this

That chat kinda freaked me out for all it was just one couple talking about their views. It is easy (probably too easy) to put that into a narrative about trust overall

In many places in Latin America, the threat of violence from criminals or guerrillas is much higher than the state. Yes, the state is corrupt and overbearing, but at least it's not trying to carjack, kidnap or rape you. The same cannot be said for FARC, Los Zetas, or the Shining Path.

My wife from Honduras tells me that people lie to polls out of fear.

A few just so story ideas about why this may be the case with Latin countries:

1) Perhaps Latins just tend to be much, much more open towards distant people compared to other cultures and this washes over to government?

Check out other questions on trusting large, remote organisations like corporations or the Catholic Church. Other cultures may be relatively more cynical towards strangers.

You could look at Latin governmental dysfunction as a symptom of a cultural enthusiasm for cosmopolitan movements, and a blase attitude towards checks and balances in government.

2) Latins may have a level of extroversion, sociability and confidence that allows them to socialize openly without actually needing that much trust or fair dealing towards in the people around them.

Why do I need to trust you? I'm so intensely sociable I'm already watching you. Why do I need to be trustworthy to you to get you to like me or at least suffer me? That's what charm is for.

Compare dorky, anti-social, charisma free East Asians who may tend to use agreeableness, humility, gentleness and compliance as the social lubricant, by contrast. If you're a dork, then you'd better be a sincere "nice guy". What else do you have going for you? If you're mean, aggressive, dishonest and soul crushingly dull, your destiny is probably not around other people.

Not much past your back yard.

This is one of those question that's maybe a little more layered than the survey captures. For instance, in the U.S. Democrats are much more likely to trust government climate scientists and mainstream media, while Republicans are more likely to trust religious leaders and military officials.

These kind of dorm room bull session questions typically don't mean exactly the same things across cultures and are prone to a host of other problems (such as narcissism of small differences: e.g., we Danes are totally different from those Swedes). Unless the researchers can validate the questions against real world behavioral differences among different countries, I don't see much reason to worry about the results they generate.

In general, to understand national tendencies, it's better to pay attention to the writings of novelists and journalists because they are more likely to point out subtle distinctions.

For example, are Turks trusting?

My impression is that much about day to day life in Turkey suggests it's a high trust society. If you are stuck on a winding two lane road behind a farm vehicle going 8 mph, you likely don't need to risk a head on crash to pass him because you can probably trust the farmer to pull over at the next turnout to let you pass.

On the other hand, Turkey's political life appears to be amazingly conspiratorial and everybody in Turk simply assumes that the only way anything gets done politically is via Byzantine conspiracies that would beggar the imagination of Oliver Stone.

So if you make up a question about trust and have it translated into Turkish, which will your respondents think you are asking about? Beats me.

I keep telling people: these Byzantine conspiracies are on a hiding to nowhere. The Romans were kicked in 1453 and aren't gonna make a comeback no matter how much they plot and scheme.

I'm curious about translation issues as well. For example, "to trust" is usually translated as "mitda" in Korea, which literally means "to believe" and has a stronger connotation. The question of whether one trusts the government can be translated into Korean to mean something like whether one believes the government as in believes everything it says and doesn't think that it ever lies. Which is quite different from the original sense of the English question.


With the PISA school achievement test, they do a lot of "We'll fix it in post-production" to make things reasonable across cultures. For example, they might translate a question into Portuguese then discover after they've given the test that while in Brazil there is a high correlation between how well students performed on other questions and on this question, in Portugal it's more random suggesting that the question wasn't correctly translated into Lisbon's version of Portuguese. At that point they might throw out the question in scoring Portugal, or use some other patch from their Item Response Theory bag of tricks.

I don't know whether these cross cultural surveys about abstractions like Trust or Happiness can be similarly fixed in post-production.

To be honest, I don't really know what the original English question means.

At least as far as you can throw them.

Research on trust reminds me of so-called "happiness research" - meaningless. Much of what's done in the social sciences is useless anyway.

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