Friday, July 31, 2015

No one leaves the door unlocked anymore

Social trust has steadily declined in the US over at least the last four decades. Part of that decline is explained by an increase in the proportion of the country's non-white population, but much of it is due to a decline in trust among non-Hispanic whites as well. Diversity is strength social withdrawal paired with social discord. The following graph shows the percentages of respondents of European ancestry who say that people are generally trustworthy, by year:

Trust in the general population declined from 48.1% in 1972 to 31.9% in 2014. Over the same period of time, trust among whites fell from 54.7% to 39.3%, a trajectory modestly gentler than that of the population taken as a whole.

Parenthetically, there is a precipitous decline in 1983 followed by a rebound in 1984 that mirrors the data for the entire population, a variance probably explained by a transcription issue with the results or simply sampling noise. It's tempting to combine the years for a smoothed average that meshes better with the rest of the data, but I've never massaged the numbers here before and I'm not about to start doing so now, so make of it what you will.

GSS variables used: YEAR, TRUST(1-2), ETHNIC(2-4,6-15,18,19,21,23-27,32,33,35,36,41,97)


Frank Gappa said...

Quality of life is a subjective matter, I was trying to be conscience this week of deteriorating quality of life scenarios in my own experience. One of the very basic ones is being followed, hounded in the Macy's the other day. Its known in the local press that the diverse crowd rip off the store frequently, the males come in and just swipe and run to the bus. The fat females will put on clothes from the rack under the clothes they came in with and walk out. Because of this EVERYONE is "profiled" so as not to be construed as racist. I am walking around in khaki shorts and a RL polo shirt and yet the employees see me as potential problem?? For me this is extremely agitating and I left the store. Doubtful my grand pappy had to deal with this kind of thing in the 40's-50's. Very sad to think about it.

Audacious Epigone said...


Great point. That's exactly the kind of thing that doesn't get recorded on any social measures outside of metrics like this, the case of self-reported levels of trust in other people generally. Consequently, it's an anecdote that helps explain why levels have steadily declined over the years.

Anonymous said...

Illuminating stuff. Are there similar declines in other measures of social trust in the gss - like volunteering, donating to non-profits, etc.?

anon2 said...

Frank I take it you're not diverse? Because if not how can a store function if they have to assign people to every customer? If trust falls too low you can't keep stores open.

Randall Parker said...

My advice: buy online. Aside from grocery stores I rarely step in a regular store. I think I haven't been in a Wal-Mart or Target or similar store for about 2 years. Occasionally I go buy something at a drug store rather than online because I can walk to the drug store and need the exercise. So for me the biggest remaining value of stores is for giving me a place to walk to.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon 8/2,

Probably, I'll take a look, thanks.