Declining Trust Among Americans May Be Sending Many To Grave Sooner


New research shows greater levels of trust linked to a longer life.


STOCKHOLM — Trust in America is on the decline, and it may be preventing many people from living longer lives. A new study finds that people who are more trusting of others tend to have longer lifespans than those mired in suspicion.

Researchers from Stockholm University and Lund University turned to data from a nationally representative survey of more than 25,000 Americans between 1978 and 2010 for their work. Participants took part in the U.S. General Social Survey between, which measured individuals’ levels of trust through questions such as, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you cannot be too careful in dealing with other people?”

The authors then checked to see which participants were still living by the end of the study period in 2014, and found 6,424 participants had passed away. They found that people who exhibited higher levels of trust tended to enjoy longer lives.

“Whether or not you trust other people, including strangers, makes a difference of about 10 months in terms of life expectancy,” says study co-author Alexander Miething, a researcher at Stockholm University, in a statement.

The study also showed that Americans were generally more likely to be suspicious of others, with distrusters outnumbering trusters 62 percent to 38 percent. They also found overall trust decreased from 43 percent of people in the 1980s to 34 percent in the 2000s.

Miething says that people who live in communities where more residents tend to show distrusting attitudes were also likely to have shorter lifespans. “In those contexts, your risk of dying is higher than in places with more community trust,” he notes.

The results were similar for both men and women, and didn’t seem to change much regardless of socioeconomic status or education level.

The authors conclude that because trust can be associated with the lifespan of Americans, the decline seen in recent decades could be considered a public health concern to some degree.

“If higher trust levels are a potential resource to increase individuals’ resilience towards health hazards arising from social disadvantage, then the decline in trust seen across the U.S. over past decades is of concern,” they write. “Decision makers, therefore, should consider any impact that policies may also have on trust, with the view to halting or even reversing this decline.”

The full study was published October 15, 2018 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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