Two possible origins of social trust

In this chapter we are primarily interested in investigating which of the two theories under discussion can best explain social trust.

The first is the classical theory that participation in voluntary organisations creates "the habits of the heart" that underpin support for democratic politics and the ability and inclination to become involved in politics. Voluntary organisations, it is said, teach people respect and understanding for others, even though the others may belong to a different social background (social class, ethnic group, gender, age, religion). Voluntary organisations also draw people into the community, engage them socially, and teach the art of organising, co-operating and compromising with others in order to achieve collective goals. In short, voluntary associations are said to encourage trust, reciprocity, and political understanding and skills.

Figure 2.1. Voluntary organisation theory

The second is the individual-oriented theory, which we have termed the Success and Well-being theory. This theory states that personal experiences in adult life influence how one interprets other persons to be. It is more risky for the poor to trust others because even small losses can have big consequences. The implication is that those who are well off are more likely to trust other people than poor people are.

Figure 2.2. Success and well-being theory

Tests of these two theories can be designed in many different ways. In this hands-on example we will include all respondents in all the countries covered by the ESS in the calculations. It is possible that the results would have been a bit different if the analysis had been conducted in relation to one nation at a time. When one uses all respondents, one misses the possibility of discovering intra-country differences.

Note that you are expected to follow the procedures described below:

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