Saturday, October 10, 2009

Race, ethnicity, and trust: Americans (GSS respondents) were asked if people can be trusted. Here are the percent who answered yes by ethnic/racial group:

Percent trusting (N = 27,313)

Norwegian 56.0
Finnish 54.4
Swiss 53.8
Danish 52.3
Belgian 52.1
English 51.1
Swedish 50.9
Scottish 48.3
Yugoslavian 48.4
Russian 47.6
Jewish 45.7
Irish 45.4
French 45.2
Japanese 44.4
Chinese 44.2
German 44.0
Czech 44.0
Austrian 43.6
Hungarian 42.9
Polish 42.8
Dutch 41.2
French Canadian 40.9
Lithuanian 40.5

All Americans 39.6

Greek 39.3
Italian 38.2
Arab 36.4
Portuguese 34.5
Asian Indian 32.8
Rumanian 31.9
Spain 31.6
Amerindian 26.2
West Indian 26.1
Mexican 24.0
Filipino 21.3
Black 16.7
Puerto Rican 16.2

The pattern is very clear for Americans of differing ancestries: those of northwestern European descent are the most trusting; Asians and central and eastern Europeans are in the middle; southern Europeans, Asian Indians, and Arabs are low; Amerindians, Mexicans, Filipinos, blacks, and Puerto Ricans are the least trusting.

Differences are large. For example, Americans of Norwegian descent are more than three times as trusting as black Americans.

In a recent analysis, I showed that trust in the political process is associated with greater interest in politics, and in the comments TGGP linked to a post by n/a which reveals the same kind of European and American pattern in civic engagement that we see with the trust numbers above.

In the Big Five factors of personality, trust is a subcomponent of the broader personality trait Agreeableness. In a study that removed the heritable component of Agreeableness from Trust, a substantial unique heritability remained: .31, and .50 after reliability was corrected. (Jang et al. 1998. Heritability in facet-level traits in a cross-cultural twin study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1556-1565.)


  1. Maybe the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded by a committee of blacks instead of Norwegians. What have we got to lose?

  2. I've just lived in an area of semi-rural Sweden for 6 months. The local used car lot leaves the cars unlocked on the weekend so that people can pop the hood and have a look inside. This is while no staff are at the lot. (I'm not sure if they go back and lock them at night). This made me smile. People trust people there because people can be trusted. It is absolutely shameful to abuse such trust and anyway, why would one stoop so low?


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