Does inequality erode social trust? Results from multilevel models of US states and counties

Authors
Malcolm Fairbrother and Isaac W. Martin
Year
2013
Journal
Social Science Research, 42, 347–360
DOI
10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.09.008
Abstract

Previous research has argued that income inequality reduces people’s trust in other people, and that declining social trust in the United States in recent decades has been due to rising levels of income inequality. Using multilevel models fitted to data from the General Social Survey, this paper substantially qualifies these arguments. We show that while people are less trusting in US states with higher income inequality, this association holds only crosssectionally, not longitudinally; since the 1970s, states experiencing larger increases in inequality have not suffered systematically larger declines in trust. For counties, there is no statistically significant relationship either cross-sectionally or longitudinally. There is therefore only limited empirical support for the argument that inequality influences generalized social trust; and the declining trust of recent decades certainly cannot be attributed to rising inequality.

Number of levels
3
Model data structure
Response types
Multivariate response model?
No
Longitudinal data?
Yes
Further model keywords
Substantive discipline
Paper submitted by
Malcolm Fairbrother, Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, m.fairbrother@bristol.ac.uk
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