Catherine Rampell has a couple of interesting charts describing the relationship of trust, income and equality (among countries).
The US is 10th most trusting of the 30 countries examined (with 48.7% saying that others can generally be trusted). Norway and Denmark are the most trying with almost 90% saying that others can be trusted; Turkey and Mexico are the least trusting with only 20-25% of residents saying that others can be trusted.
Since wealthy countries generally are more trusting, it’s surprising that America is only ranked 10th.
The U.S. is the country in the top center of the graph, way above the black regression line with median equivalized income of $27,000 per person (y-axis) but trust just below 50% (x-axis). If one moved the US over to the right until it hit the regression line it would have social trust levels of 90%, like Norway. [better picture here.]
The reason for America’s low level of trust can be seen by looking at the levels of inequality in the US. More equal countries tend to have higher levels of trust, and viewed through this lens, Americans are just as trusting as one would expect, down around the levels of trust and inequality of a Portugal or a Poland, which while far poorer than the US has similar levels of equality to the US.
The implicit conclusion seems to be that income equality trumps wealth when it comes to trust, which makes some sense as it may engender a “we’re-all-in-this-together” esprit de corps. But the regression line, if anything, seems to better fit countries for the graph of trust against income per person than the level of trust maps onto levels of equality. And notably, Denmark and Norway, have higher levels of trust than one would expect from their level of equality.
Food for thought…
See NY Times Economix, “Trust Me, We’re Rich” (Catherine Rampell, 4/18/11)