Acta Politica

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 342–379

Social Trust and Civic Engagement across Time and Generations

  • M Kent Jennings
  • Laura Stoker
Original Article


This article uses long-term panel data on three generations of Americans to address several issues concerning the state of social trust and civic engagement and their inter-relationships. Social trust is indicated by the standard index and civic engagement by organizational involvement and volunteerism. We demonstrate that the decline in trust and engagement has been led by Generation X, rather than the Baby Boomers, who compare quite favorably with their predecessors, the highly lauded ‘Long Civic Generation.’ Baby Boomers do, however, have a more sporadic and short-lived record of civic engagement than the preceding generation. Both social trust and, especially, civic engagement are also subject to consequential life cycle effects that may be disguised in cross-sectional designs. The interdependence between social trust and civic engagement is evident as individuals age, though trust is more a cause than a consequence of civic engagement, and the link disappears for voluntary associations based upon exclusive identities.


social capital civic engagement social trust political socialization generations life cycle 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • M Kent Jennings
    • 1
  • Laura Stoker
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political Science 9420University of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Political Science DepartmentBerkeleyUSA

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