Across countries, where social trust is high, crime and corruption are low

A Pew Global Attitudes Study found markedly different rates in social trust across countries of the world (ranging from 79% in China down to 25% in Kenya or 27% in Kuwait or 28% in Peru). The U.S. was 5th at 58% trusting, behind the Chinese, Swedish (78%), Canadian (71%), and British (65%). [The question is an agree-disagree item: “Most people in this society are trustworthy.”]

They found that trust had noticeably fallen in formerly Communist, Eastern Europe, down to levels of Southern Europe (like Spain, Italy). Russia showed the highest levels of trust at 50% but its Eastern European neighbors had levels of trust between 42% and 48%.

Crime: They also found a connection of trust with crime. “In countries with high levels of trust, people are generally less likely to say crime is a very big problem for their country (the correlation coefficient for responses to the two questions is -.56). Most of the countries surveyed fit the overall pattern, including the United States, where concerns about crime are about where one would expect, given the relatively high degree of social trust.

Trust and Crime

“There are, however, some outliers. For example, South Africans — who have been plagued by crime in recent years — are more concerned about crime than would be expected, based solely on their level of social trust. Meanwhile, crime fears are even less common in Sweden and China than their high levels of trust would have predicted.”

Corruption: “[T]he relationship between trust and corruption resembles the one between trust and crime. The percentage of people rating corrupt political leaders as a very big problem tends to be lower in countries that have high levels of trust such as Sweden, Canada, and Britain (the correlation coefficient is -.54). On the other hand, in nations such as Nigeria and Lebanon, trust is rare and concerns about political corruption are widespread.

Trust and Corruption

“Again, there are outliers. Kuwait is both a low trust and low corruption society. Indonesia is a high trust, high corruption country. And the Swedes are once again even less concerned about corruption than their high score on the trust measure would predict (the question about political corruption was not asked in China, the only country to top the Swedes on trust). Meanwhile, Americans — who have witnessed more than a few high profile political scandals over the last few years — were slightly more concerned about corrupt politicians than would have been expected, based on their reasonably high degree of social trust.”

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