Jan Mewes

Three Worlds of Trust: A Longitudinal Study of Welfare States, Life-Course Risks, and Social Trust

Social trust, the belief that most other people are trustworthy, leads to many important societal benefits, including higher economic growth, lower levels of corruption and better public health. However, very little is known about when and why individuals' trust changes. This knowledge is vital to halt the trend of declining social trust currently plaguing many countries. Our project will fill this research lacuna. We take a life-course perspective whereby individuals' trust changes in response to critical life-course events, such as job loss, divorce, income reduction, or worsening health conditions. We will analyze data from three countries, each representing different types of welfare state regimes: Germany (conservative), Norway (social democratic) and the United States (liberal). We expect to find that negative life-course events will erode social trust in contexts where the state provides little or no welfare buffer. We will test this argument by analyzing longitudinal data from the German Socio-economic Panel, the Norwegian Citizen Panel and the U.S. General Social Survey. All three surveys observe individuals at multiple points in time. The results from this research will provide social policy makers with much-needed information about the most effective means of protecting and increasing social trust.
Final report
***Purpose of the project and how it has developed during the project period***

Social trust, the belief that most other people can be trusted, leads to many important societal benefits, including higher economic growth, lower levels of corruption and better public health. However, very little is known about when and why individuals' trust changes. This knowledge is vital to halt the trend of declining social trust currently plaguing many countries. Our project aimed at filling this research lacuna. One of our key hypotheses was that certain types of welfare state regimes may manage to buffer potentially negative consequences of critical life-course events. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed both cross-sectional data and longitudinal survey data.

***A short description of how it was implemented***

The project used data from various existing cross-sectional and longitudinal survey studies, e.g. the US General Social Survey (1972-2018 time series data and 2006-2014 panel data) and the British Household Panel Study. Originally, the project planned to utilize panel data from different “worlds of welfare capitalism”, but this idea was dropped because the data that we planned to use was either not truly longitudinal (Norwegian Citizen Panel) or did use widely different measures to study social trust (German SOEP). Instead, we focused on social policy induced within-country variation, e.g. the development of social trust in the United States after the healthcare reform pre- and post-Obamacare (Mewes and Giordano 2017).

***The project’s three most important results and contributions to the international research front and a discussion about this***

Using time-series and longitudinal survey data from the US General Social Survey, Mewes et al. (2021, revised and resubmitted) find that the decline in US social trust during the period 1973 to 2018 was to a large part caused by increasing job instability, decreasing trust in political institutions, and growing dissatisfaction over family income. It is in particular the finding concerning unemployment scarring that is of particular relevance here, because unemployment experiences had not been linked to the decline in US social trust before. Indeed, the US had, parallel to the steady decrease in generalized social trust, experienced increasing levels of job instability in previous decades.

Combining US survey data from the General Social Survey (GSS) with the US National Death Index (NDI), Giordano, Mewes and Miething (2019) show that both community-level and individual-level social trust are associated with higher life expectancy among Americans. Distrust, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with higher all-cause mortality, even when adjusting for a range of confounding factors. Social trust is thus both a contextual-level and an individual-level health resource. Importantly, a subsequent publication (Miething et al. 2020) focusing on cause-specific mortality suggests that there could be a psychosocial mechanism linking longevity to higher levels of individual-level trust.

Analyzing US panel data from the period before and the after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Mewes and Giordano (2017) find that worsening self-rated health had a negative impact on social trust before the healthcare reform, but not in the period after the ACA had been passed. This finding supports the hypothesis that social trust is responsive to social policy reforms and governance.

***New research questions generated through the project***

We are only the second team that established lasting scars of unemployment on people’s social trust. So far, this association has only been found in two countries that can be characterized as liberal welfare states: the United Kingdom and the United States. Future research needs to investigate i) the mechanisms that make unemployment leaving a lasting scar on trust; ii) whether job loss has a long-term impact on social trust even in other worlds of welfare capitalism, iii) whether active and passive unemployment measures help to buffer the potentially deteriorating impact of losing a job on trust and iv) how the recent Covid crisis (as a catalysator of unemployment) affects trends in social trust, both within and across different countries.

***The project’s international dimensions, such as contacts and material***
This research project included two researchers, Dr. Fairbrother (University of Bristol, United Kingdom) and Dr. Wilkes (University of British Columbia, Canada), that were residing and working abroad when the project started. Additionally, Dr. Wu (by then a PhD student at the University of British Columbia, Canada, now an assistant professor at York University, Canada) became an affiliate with the project. During the course of the project, Dr. Fairbrother accepted a position as full professor at the Department of Sociology at Umeå University. In addition to the international collaboration, the research projected organized a RJ funded international workshop (about 25 participants) dedicated to social trust, held in Uppsala, Sweden, in June 2018.

***How the project team has disseminated the results to other researchers and groups outside the scientific community and discuss and explain how collaboration has taken place***
The project led to a range of publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Beyond that, the researchers widely shared their research on social media (on e.g. Twitter) and on their personal blogs. Our most important findings were communicated via press releases that attained quite a lot of national and international attention. The most prolific example is the Giordano et al. 2019 article on trust and mortality in the US which ended up being in the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric).

***Publication list, reverse chronological order***

*= Open access

Articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals:


Mewes, Jan, Malcolm Fairbrother, Giuseppe N. Giordano, Rima Wilkes, and Cary Wu (2021): Experiences Matter: Individual-Level Sources of Declining Social Trust in the United States. (revised and resubmitted to Social Science Research)

*Miething, Alexander, Jan Mewes, Giuseppe N. Giordano (2020): Trust, happiness and mortality: Findings from a prospective US population-based survey, Social Science & Medicine 252: 50-55, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.112809

Fairbrother, Malcolm, Ingemar Johansson Sevä, and Joakim Kulin (2019): “Political Trust and the Relationship between Climate Change Beliefs and Support for Fossil Fuel Taxes: Evidence from a Survey of 23 European Countries” Global Environmental Change. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2019.102003

*Giordano, Giuseppe N., Jan Mewes, and Alexander Miething (2019): Trust and all-cause mortality: a multilevel study of US General Social Survey data (1978–2010). Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 73: 50-55, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech-2018-211250

Wilkes, Rima and Cary Wu (2018): Ethnicity, Democracy, Trust: A Majority-Minority
Approach. Social Forces 97: 465–494, https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soy027

Wu, Cary and Rima Wilkes (2018): Finding Critical Citizens: A Response Pattern Model of Political Trust. International Journal of Comparative Sociology. 59: 110-138, https://doi.org/10.1177/0020715218761520

*Mewes, Jan and Giuseppe N. Giordano (2017): Self-rated health, generalized trust, and the Affordable Care Act: A US panel study, 2006-2014. Social Science & Medicine 190: pp. 48-56. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.08.012, doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.08.012

Fairbrother, Malcolm (2017): Environmental Attitudes and the Politics of Distrust. Sociology Compass 11: e12482. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12482

Wu, Cary and Rima Wilkes (2017): Local-National Political Trust Patterns: Why China is an Exception. International Political Science Review 54(1): 89-120, https://doi.org/10.1177/0192512116677587

*Fairbrother, Malcolm (2016): Trust and Public Support for Environmental Protection in Diverse National Contexts. Sociological Science 3: 359-382. DOI: 10.15195/v3.a17

*Giordano, Giuseppe N. and Lindström, Martin (2016). The 2005 London terror attacks: An investigation of changes in psychological wellbeing and social capital pre- and post-attacks (2003-07)-A UK panel study. SSM - Population Health, 2, 485–494. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmph.2016.06.008

*Lindström, Martin and Giuseppe N. Giordano (2016): The 2008 financial crisis: Changes in social capital and its association with psychological wellbeing in the United Kingdom - A panel study. Social Science & Medicine 153, pp. 71-80. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.02.008

Wu, Cary and Rima Wilkes (2016): Durable Power and Generalized Trust.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (11) 2793-2795, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1523536113

Chapters in peer-reviewed books:

Wilkes Rima and Cary Wu (2017): Trust and Minority Groups, in: Eric Uslaner (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Social and Political Trust. New York: Oxford University Press. 30 pages,
DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274801.013.29
Publication list
*= Open access

*Miething, Alexander, Jan Mewes, Giuseppe N. Giordano (2020): Trust, happiness and mortality: Findings from a prospective US population-based survey, Social Science & Medicine 252: 50-55, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.112809

Fairbrother, Malcolm, Ingemar Johansson Sevä, and Joakim Kulin (2019): “Political Trust and the Relationship between Climate Change Beliefs and Support for Fossil Fuel Taxes: Evidence from a Survey of 23 European Countries” Global Environmental Change. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2019.102003

*Giordano, Giuseppe N., Jan Mewes, and Alexander Miething (2019): Trust and all-cause mortality: a multilevel study of US General Social Survey data (1978–2010). Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 73: 50-55, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech-2018-211250

Wilkes, Rima and Cary Wu (2018): Ethnicity, Democracy, Trust: A Majority-Minority
Approach. Social Forces 97: 465–494, https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soy027

Wu, Cary and Rima Wilkes (2018): Finding Critical Citizens: A Response Pattern Model of Political Trust. International Journal of Comparative Sociology. 59: 110-138, https://doi.org/10.1177/0020715218761520

*Mewes, Jan and Giuseppe N. Giordano (2017): Self-rated health, generalized trust, and the Affordable Care Act: A US panel study, 2006-2014. Social Science & Medicine 190: pp. 48-56. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.08.012, doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.08.012

Fairbrother, Malcolm (2017): Environmental Attitudes and the Politics of Distrust. Sociology Compass 11: e12482. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12482

Wu, Cary and Rima Wilkes (2017): Local-National Political Trust Patterns: Why China is an Exception. International Political Science Review 54(1): 89-120, https://doi.org/10.1177/0192512116677587

Wilkes Rima and Cary Wu (2017): Trust and Minority Groups, in: Eric Uslaner (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Social and Political Trust. New York: Oxford University Press. 30 pages,
DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274801.013.29

*Fairbrother, Malcolm (2016): Trust and Public Support for Environmental Protection in Diverse National Contexts. Sociological Science 3: 359-382. DOI: 10.15195/v3.a17

*Giordano, Giuseppe N. and Lindström, Martin (2016). The 2005 London terror attacks: An investigation of changes in psychological wellbeing and social capital pre- and post-attacks (2003-07)-A UK panel study. SSM - Population Health, 2, 485–494. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmph.2016.06.008

*Lindström, Martin and Giuseppe N. Giordano (2016): The 2008 financial crisis: Changes in social capital and its association with psychological wellbeing in the United Kingdom - A panel study. Social Science & Medicine 153, pp. 71-80. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.02.008

Wu, Cary and Rima Wilkes (2016): Durable Power and Generalized Trust.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (11) 2793-2795, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1523536113
Grant administrator
Lunds universitet
Reference number
NHS14-2035:1
Amount
SEK 9,586,000.00
Funding
New prospects for humanities and social sciences
Subject
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Year
2015