- An AP-GfK poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters
- Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling
- People stopped trusting each other during the baby boomer generation and beliefs people have in their twenties will likely stay with them
- Distrust encourages corruption whereas trust encourages economic growth
- Dennis Hess, 60, goes against the grain with his unattended farm stand based on the honor system
PUBLISHED: 11:35 EST, 30 November 2013 | UPDATED: 11:39 EST, 30 November 2013
You can take our word for it. Americans don’t trust each other anymore.
We’re not talking about the loss of faith in big institutions such as the government, the church or Wall Street, which fluctuates with events. For four decades, a gut-level ingredient of democracy – trust in the other fellow – has been quietly draining away.
These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question.
Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say ‘you can’t be too careful’ in dealing with people.
An AP-GfK poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling.
Bart Murawski, 27, says he is ‘leery’ of almost everyone he meets and has trouble trusting people
‘I’m leery of everybody,’ said Bart Murawski, 27, of Albany, N.Y. ‘Caution is always a factor.’
Does it matter that Americans are suspicious of one another? Yes, say worried political and social scientists.
What’s known as ‘social trust’ brings good things.
A society where it’s easier to compromise or make a deal. Where people are willing to work with those who are different from them for the common good. Where trust appears to promote economic growth.
Distrust, on the other hand, seems to encourage corruption. At the least, it diverts energy to counting change, drawing up 100-page legal contracts and building gated communities.
Even the rancor and gridlock in politics might stem from the effects of an increasingly distrustful citizenry, said April K. Clark, a Purdue University political scientist and public opinion researcher.
‘It’s like the rules of the game,’ Clark said. ‘When trust is low, the way we react and behave with each other becomes less civil.’
He’s not alone: Beliefs people develop in their twenties are likely to stay with them throughout the rest of their lives
There’s no easy fix.
In fact, some studies suggest it’s too late for most Americans alive today to become more trusting. That research says the basis for a person’s lifetime trust levels is set by his or her mid-twenties and unlikely to change, other than in some unifying crucible such as a world war.
People do get a little more trusting as they age. But beginning with the baby boomers, each generation has started off adulthood less trusting than those who came before them.
The best hope for creating a more trusting nation may be figuring out how to inspire today’s youth, perhaps united by their high-tech gadgets, to trust the way previous generations did in simpler times