Social Indicators Research

, Volume 114, Issue 2, pp 703–722 | Cite as

But Who Are Those “Most People” That Can Be Trusted? Evaluating the Radius of Trust Across 29 European Societies

  • Tim ReeskensEmail author


As comparative research has repeatedly demonstrated that societies where people trust each other more easily are better able to generate a series of positive externalities, the study of generalized trust has taken pandemic forms. However, critical voices have warned that the levels of trust (the intensity to cooperate) are conceptually different from the radius of trust (with whom you would cooperate) (Fukuyama in Trust. The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. Free Press, New York, 1995). In this article, the classic trust question, i.e. whether “most people can be trusted or whether you cannot be too careful,” is brought in relation with tolerance towards cultural minorities, people with deviant behavior, and political extremists, as surveyed in the 2008 wave of the European Values Study. The results point to a hierarchy in social tolerance, furthermore indicating that while ‘trusters’ are more inclusive towards cultural minorities and people with deviant behavior, they are not substantially more tolerant towards extremist political voices compared to ‘distrusters’. Also, the radius of trust is context dependent, with especially economic modernization determining how wide the radius of trust is. We relate the findings of this study with recent research outcomes and implications for trust research.


Generalized trust Radius of trust Modernization Cross-national analysis European Values Study 



The author would like to thank Paul de Graaf and Erik van Ingen for their intense reflections on this topic, as well as Hamutal Bernstein, Christian Bjørnskov and Jennifer Miller, as well as the anonymous reviewers for this journal for their thoughtful comments. An earlier version of this paper has been presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association (Chicago—April 12–15, 2012).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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