Thursday, August 11, 2016

Trust in other people by generation, or how millennials don't trust anyone

The Z-Man on millennials:
The passive cynicism of the millennials may simply be a result of living in a world of fiction. If most of what you see and hear is bullshit, you’re going to assume everything is bullshit. It is also impossible to have trust in people that lie all the time, so this sea of mass media is self-defeating as a propaganda tool. The Russians during the Soviet era assumed everything told to them was a lie, which made an already cynical people into the first no-trust society.
I have twenty millennials who work under me and my perception is that truth isn't even held up as something they tell themselves they're striving for. In the context of the general election it's primarily about how Trump, Hillary, and Sanders make them feel and, secondarily, what direct benefits they represent (like free college).

A few like Trump because he's an alpha male who punches the powers that be right between the nose. A bunch like Sanders because he's caring and tolerant and concerned about those who can't help themselves. One likes Hillary but he--yes, (apparently) heterosexual he--can't explain why beyond "How everyone else feels about Bernie, that's how I feel about Hillary".

None of these kids--and as someone at the very tail end of Gen X by this accounting, I can call them kids--even pretends to care about the underlying veracity of the things the candidates say and do. Not only is there little apparent ratiocination, there's not even much rationalizing.

Regarding the assertion that it is impossible to have trust in people who lie all the time, the GSS has handily asked respondents whether or not they think most people can be trusted since the survey's inception back in the early seventies. The following graph shows, by generational cohort*, the percentages who say that most people can be trusted (n = 36,750):

One-in-five millennials say other people can generally be trusted. The virtual world these kids exist in fosters a solipsism that can mostly be kept secluded from reality in its starkest forms. They simultaneously have access to everybody on the planet and no one at all. Community comes and goes with a tap on a screen. It's 25,000 miles wide and an inch deep. Would you dive headlong into that?

GSS variables used: COHORT(1901-1924)(1925-1945)(1946-1964)(1965-1984)(1985-2000), TRUST(1-2)

* Birth years by generational cohort:

Greatest -- 1901-1924
Silent -- 1925-1945
Baby Boomer -- 1946-1964
X -- 1965-1984
Millennial -- 1985-2000


chris said...

How much does this control for the millennials living in a more diverse generational cohort?

Dan said...

Are we becoming like the Soviet Union, both in terms of lying media and cynicism by the public?

I find propaganda to be utterly oppressive and my latest irritation is the Russia bashing of these Olympics.

America is somehow suddenly as pure as the freshly driven snow. Has it escaped memory how Lance Armstrong and most of the US Postal Service Team cheated the Tour de France seven times? For that America would be permanently banned from the Tour de France, if France acted toward us as we act toward Russia. Have we forgotten that basically all of our baseball greats recently were cheats?

Audacious Epigone said...


Modestly, but it's not the primary explanation.

Here are the yes percentages for all respondents by generation:

Greatest - 44.1%
Silent - 47.0%
Baby boomer - 40.2%
X - 27.2%
Millennial - 21.1%

And for whites only:

Greatest - 47.8%
Silent - 51.2%
Baby boomer - 44.3%
X - 30.8%
Millennial - 26.6%

White trust is about 3 points higher than all trust for every group and 6 points higher for millennials, the least white group. Diversity! is accentuating the trend but it's there even among whites. Of course, Diversity! doesn't just influence things demographically. If everyone is hunkering down because of more Diversity!, then its effects aren't going to be appreciated just by looking at white and non-white trends over time.


Yes, the cynicism is reaching new heights. Does anyone believe Michael Phelps is natural? Are any of these endurance or strength Olympians who medal? Really, are any of them at all clean? I assume not.

Dain said...

But millennials are the same generation comfortable with meeting total strangers to fuck. Or getting into cars with the same and trusting the driver not to rape and rob them. Actions speak louder than words, and all that.

Audacious Epigone said...


The data on sexual partners shows millennials either less active or no different than in the past. Given the inherent difficulties in trusting self reported sex info, that slut shaming isnt what it used to be suggests that current numbers are less understated among women than was the case in the past. Iow, even with the easy accessibility apps provide, millennials arent deranged sex maniacs.

Anonymous said...

this is like rating

JayMan said...

I'm glad you separated the results by race, but I wonder if there is an age confound. Maybe younger people are less trusting?

Perhaps look at matched ages for each group?

Also, self-reported trust has low heritability (5% in fact). It might have low real-world validity as well ("not as I say but as I do").

Audacious Epigone said...


That narrows the differences but they are still present.

It could have little real world validity, and your cautionary comments are appreciated as always.

Alternatively, it could indicate a real change in the zeitgeist. Putnam's now famous study found that trust declines among all groups the more heterogeneous a place becomes. The US is becoming more heterogeneous and consequently less trusting.