Skip to main content

Trust as an alternative to risk

Abstract

Many students of trust see it as a way to mitigate risk through the development of strong institutions that create trust. I offer an alternative view of trust, moralistic or generalized trust, that depends upon a psychological foundation of optimism and control. This form of trust, in contrast to arguments by Paldam and others, has “value” independent of experience. Using data from a survey of metropolitan Philadelphia in 1996, I show that if you believe that “most people can be trusted,” you are substantially more likely to see your neighborhood as safe at night even controlling for both the objective level of crime as well having been the victim of a crime, having had parents who were the victims of crime, watching local television news (which exposes people to violent events), where you live (central city and suburb), and gender. Trust thus “reduces” perceptions of risk independently of personal experience.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. This finding comes from the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press’s 1996 Trust and Citizen Engagement survey in metropolitan Philadelphia. Ninety-seven % of moralistic trusters said that other people trust them, compared to a still very high eighty-six % of mistrusters (tau-b = 0.174, gamma = 0.627). This result may reflect either reality—perhaps we are more likely to trust people who trust us—or it may also be part of the general syndrome of overinterpretation.

  2. Most of this section comes from Uslaner (2002), Chap. 7. The data bases and the specific statistical analyses (all multivariate) are discussed in that chapter.

  3. For details on the survey, see: http://www.people-press.org/1997/04/18/trust-and-citizen-engagement-in-metropolitan-philadelphia-a-case-study/ and for more details and the full questionnaire, see http://www.people-press.org/files/legacy-pdf/110.pdf. There is no publicly available description of the rape (or other violence measures) for neighborhoods. The measures run from 1 to over 2000, with the exact interpretation unstated. The source of the data was described to me by Andrew Kohut, then Director of the Pew Center for The People and The Press in a private conversation.

  4. I also did estimates including education, but it was not significant. There is no clear theoretical linkage between education and perceptions of safety so there is no reason to include it in the models.

  5. Do more trusting neighborhoods lead to less violence or does less violence lead to greater trust? Likely the direction of causality goes both ways, but this is not the place to examine this question (cf. Uslaner 2002, Chaps. 5, 8).

References

  • Axelrod, R. (1984). The evolution of cooperation. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Banfield, E. (1958). The moral basis of a backward society. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berggren, N., & Bjørnskov, C. (2011). Is the importance of religion in daily life related to social trust? Cross-country and cross-state comparisons. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 80, 459–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bok, S. (1978). Lying. New York: Pantheon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E., Suh, E., & Oishi, S. (1997). Recent findings on subjective well-being. Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology, 24, 25–41.

    Google Scholar 

  • Elster, J. (1989). The cement of society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Forster, E. M. (1965). Two cheers for democracy. In E. M. Forster (Ed.), Two cheers for democracy (pp. 67–76). New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freitag, M., & Bauer, P. C. (2013). Testing for measurement equivalence in surveys: dimensions of social trust across cultural contexts. Public Opinion Quarterly, 77(Special Issue), 24–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glaeser, E., Laibson, D., Scheinkman, J., & Soutter, C. (2000). Measuring trust. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(3), 811–846.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hardin, R. (1992). The street-level epistemology of trust. Analyse & Kritik, 14(S), 152–176.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lane, R. E. (1959). Political life. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis, J. D., & Weigert, A. (1985). Trust as a social reality. Social Forces, 63(4), 967–985.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mansbridge, J. (1999). Altruistic trust. In M. Warren (Ed.), Democracy and trust (pp. 2090–2309). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Misztal, B. A. (1996). Trust in modern societies. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Muller, D., Torgler, B., & Uslaner, E. M. (2012). Inherited growth and trust—a comment. CREMA Working Paper 2012-04. http://www.crema-research.ch/papers/2012-04.pdf.

  • Orbell, J., & Dawes, R. M. (1991). A cognitive Miser’ theory of cooperators advantage. American Political Science Review, 85(2), 513–528.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Paldam, M. (2009). The macro perspective on generalized trust. In G. T. Svendsen & G. L. H. Svendsen (Eds.), Handbook of social capital (pp. 354–375). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

    Google Scholar 

  • Paldam, M. (2010). Generalized trust: the macro perspective. In L. Sacconi & G. D. Antoni (Eds.), Social capital, corporate social responsibility and performance (pp. 331–357). London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosenberg, M. (1956). Misanthropy and political ideology. American Sociological Review, 21(6), 690–695.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rothstein, B. (2000). Trust, social dilemmas, and collective memories: on the rise and decline of the Swedish model. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 12(4), 477–499.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seligman, A. B. (1997). The problem of trust. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sitkin, S. B., & Roth, N. L. (1993). Explaining the limited effectiveness of legalistic ‘remedies’ for trust/distrust. Organization Science, 4(3), 367–392.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Uslaner, E. M. (2002). The moral foundations of trust. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Uslaner, E. M. (2008). Corruption, inequality, and the rule of law. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Yamigishi, T., & Yamigishi, M. (1994). Trust and commitment in the United States and Japan. Motivation and Emotion, 18(2), 129–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The research assistance of Mitchell Brown is greatly appreciated. I am also grateful to the Russell Sage Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation for a grant under the Russell Sage program on The Social Dimensions of Inequality (see http://www.russellsage.org/programs/proj_reviews/social-inequality.htm) and to the General Research Board of the Graduate School of the University of Maryland—College Park. Some of the data reported here come from the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), which is not responsible for any interpretations. Other data come from the Pew Center for The People and The Press and I am grateful to Andrew Kohut for making them available to me. Most of the arguments here come from Uslaner (2002). I am grateful for the comments of David Levin.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eric M. Uslaner.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Uslaner, E.M. Trust as an alternative to risk. Public Choice 157, 629–639 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-013-0082-x

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-013-0082-x

Keywords

  • Trust
  • Social capital
  • Risk

JEL Classification

  • Z13
  • K42