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Does inequality erode generalized trust? Evidence from Romanian youths

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Abstract

Generalized trust is a critical component of liberal democratic citizenship. We evaluate the extent to which exposure to socioeconomic inequality erodes trust among Romanian youths. Using national survey data of Romanian eighth-grade and high school students, we evaluate this effect as a product of socioeconomic diversity within the classroom, controlling for the social status of the students as well as socioeconomic inequality within the community where the school is located. Our analysis shows that generalized trust is higher among older adolescents. However, despite this maturing effect, youth exposed to greater levels of socioeconomic diversity have significantly lower levels of trust. The effect is particularly acute for students in the ninth grade controlling for community diversity and polarization. The result reinforces the idea that generalized trust develops early in one’s life and is quite stable, although a major life transformation, such as entering high school, may alter trust depending on the social context.

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Notes

  1. Eurostat calculates the Gini coefficient using available income data. The World Bank, using estimates of consumption inequality, produces values that are more moderate although ones that are still higher than the EU average.

  2. The High School Soros survey was conducted between October 2010 and May 2011. The study was commissioned by Soros Foundation, Romania, and conducted by Totem Communications. The panel sample was drawn through a random process stratified by type of school (high school and vocational school), cultural region, and locality size (rural, urban < 100,000, and urban > 100,000). Once a class was selected, all students in that class were asked to respond. The survey conducted in 2010 included 5862 respondents, representing 86 schools from 70 localities. The panel subsample resulted in 2023 respondents, representing 45 schools from 36 localities with an average school size of approximately 500 enrolled students.

  3. The Center for the Study of Democracy, Babeş-Bolyai University conducted the EDUCIV survey between May 2006 and May 2009. Using the same sampling procedure (random stratified) as Panel 1, 435 respondents were retained over the 3-year period, representing 20 schools from six localities.

  4. School level data were collected by the Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-university Education (ARACIP) in 2013–2014.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 6 Variable Specifications and Descriptive Statistics

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Sum, P., Bădescu, G. Does inequality erode generalized trust? Evidence from Romanian youths. Acta Polit 54, 584–606 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-018-0092-2

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