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Social trust: Global pattern or nordic exceptionalism?

Jan Delhey () and Kenneth Newton

No SP I 2004-202, Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Inequality and Social Integration from WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Abstract: Cross-national comparative analysis of generalised social trust in 60 countries shows that it is associated with, and is an integral part of, a tight syndrome of cultural, social, economic, and political variables. High trust countries are characterized by ethnic homogeneity, Protestant religious traditions, good government, wealth (GDP per capita), and income equality. This particular combination is most marked in the high trust Nordic countries but when this group of outliners is removed from the analysis, the same general pattern is found in the remaining 55 countries, albeit in a weaker form. There are indications that rural societies tend to have comparatively low levels of generalized trust but no evidence that large-scale urban society tends to undermine trust. The cause and effect relations between trust and its correlates are impossible to specify but the results suggest that the ethnic homogeneity and Protestant traditions have a direct impact on trust, and an indirect one through their consequences for good government, wealth and income equality. The importance of ethnic homogeneity for generalised trust also suggests that the difference between particularised and generalised trust may be one of degree rather than kind.

Date: 2004
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