Trust is Becoming a Luxury Commodity in America

Trust everybody, but cut the cards. —Finley Peter Dunne

wallet-moneyClass differences in the U.S. are widening on many fronts–wealth, technology, education, to name a few.  And according to the results of a new Gallup survey, we can now confidently add Trust to the list.  The survey was conducted via telephone interviews with more than 238,000 adults, aged 18 and older — behold a few outcomes below.


82% of those making $90,000 per year or more say they would expect a neighbor who found a lost wallet or purse containing $200 to return it. In contrast, 50% of those making less than $24,000 per year expressed similar trust in their neighbors.



81% of those with an advanced degree say they believe their neighbor would return their lost wallet; only 48% of those without a high school diploma said the same.



On average, non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics are less likely to say they would trust a neighbor to return their wallet with the money in it than are whites and Asians.



Another finding of the survey is that the older we get, the more we trust.  Averaging across all ethnic groups, older people are more likely than their younger counterparts to say they would trust a neighbor to return their wallet with the money in it. 55% of those aged 29 and younger say so, and this figure increases steadily as age increases. Among those aged 65 and older, 75% say they think that their neighbor would return the wallet with the cash.


To the extent that trust is linked with a sense of well-being, these results are decidedly bad news (the age result notwithstanding), though sadly not surprising. And as the Gallup analysis points out, the problem feeds itself: lower socioeconomic areas have lower levels of trust, which handicap efforts to improve conditions, which leads to worse conditions and less trust.  Looking at it another way, lower levels of trust may be spawned by lower socioeconomic conditions, which impede greater trust from developing in the community. Either way, troubling.

Source: Gallup


3 thoughts on “Trust is Becoming a Luxury Commodity in America

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Trust is Becoming a Luxury Commodity in America - David Disalvo - Brainspin - True/Slant --

  2. Interesting post David, but I’m not sure that this survey says anything about trust. It reminds me of William James’s century-old warning against the “psychologist’s fallacy,” i.e., when the researcher takes his (it was always a him back then) point of view and experience to be the same as the subjects in the study. Here. that means assuming all the different groups experience a “lost wallet or purse containing $200” to be a constant so that the recorded differences reflect differences in trust. But maybe the difference is not trust, the difference may be in how $200 is perceived.

    Mid-century there were a bunch of experiments done by Jerome Bruner and others looking at how motivation and need influenced perception. Dubbed the “New Look” in perception this work helped start the cognitive revolution. One finding, for example, was about size judgements. If memory serves, kids in poverty judged the physical size of a quarter to be larger than wealthy, well-fed kids–the actual physical size!

    So, maybe there are no differences in trusting a neighbor, its just that $200 is much more powerful stimulus for those who feels themselves to be doing without. It would be interesting to test, for example, how much the wallet would have to contain for for the yes return among the 90,000 or higher group to match the less than 24,000.

  3. Todd — That’s a great point and it occured to me as well. The difficulty the designers of a survey like this face is establishing a standard measure across all populations. I question why they chose $200 as the standard –it seems too high. Maybe, though, that was the point. $200 in cash is, I think, a not insignificant amount to just about anyone (even very wealthy people wouldn’t toss $200 out a window). I have to think they were trying to set a “middle ground” standard (of equal inducement influence for all classes), but I have no idea if they were successful, or on what they based the decision.

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