The trust that humans have in each other varies from country to country
Is Trust in fellow human beings the first to be sacrificed when a society is politically unstable, corrupt, poor, crime-ridden or war-torn? Well, there certainly is a huge connection if the findings of a Pew Research study have any merit. This survey was undertaken in April-May 2007 in 47 countries.*
Let’s take America and Europe first. What struck me immediately was the huge difference between the Social Trust scores of Canada and the United States. A large majority of Canadians trust each other but only 58 percent of Americans do. These countries are neighbors, yet there is a significant difference in the crime rates as well. For example if you take homicides (an indicator of violent crime), there are 0.042802 murders per 1000 people in America and 0.0149063 in Canada. Politicians are also perceived to be less corrupt in Canada than in America. And as for the crime rate of Sweden, its mindboggling but true, only just over 1 homicide per 100,000 inhabitants, which is about a third of that of America. And it seems to be correlated by their trust scores…78 percent of the Swedes trust each other, and only 22 percent don’t.
The homicide rate in Britain ( 0.0140633 per thousand people) is approximately the same as that of Canada, but trust levels are lower in Britain, with only 65 percent of Britons trusting each other as opposed to Canada’s 71 percent. This could partly due to the past…previous surveys on this subject have revealed that in 1991, only 55 percent of Britons trusted each other and this has risen to 65 percent today. Also overall crime (burglaries for example) is higher in Britain than in Canada.
The fact that the ability to trust a fellow citizen changes with time is a positive thing. In fact there have been a lot of changes in Western Europe. Social trust has increased significantly not just in Britain, but also in France and Italy. In 1991, only 33 percent of Italians and 29 percent of the French trusted each other. Today this these figures are 41 percent in Italy and 45 percent in France, still lower than that of Britain though.
However, crime rates in Britain are higher than in Italy and France, yet the British trust each other far more. True, British crime rates are falling, but they are falling rather slowly as compared to other nations in the EU. Britain in 2006 had the highest rate of burglary in the European Union and almost tops in assaults and hate crimes. London is said to be the “crime capital of Europe”. So that makes us wonder, why then is trust so high amongst the British people? Well, one of the reasons put forward is that Britons have a high level of trust in their police and in their justice system.
Next is a graph telling us about the trust levels in Russia and Eastern Europe. They aren’t very high. But, according to previous survey, Social Trust was high when the countries were communist! After communism collapsed, Trust declined. The “1991 Pulse of Europe survey conducted by the Times Mirror Center” revealed that the majority of people in Bulgaria, Russia, and Ukraine said they could trust their fellow citizens. But in 2007, these figures have fallen to 44 percent in Bulgaria, 50 percent in Russia, and 47 percent in Ukraine. Clearly life has become more uncertain and insecure and the order that was strictly in place has gone…and crime has increased. One wonders whether Communism had cocooned people in a false sense of security?
The distrust that Kuwaitis feel for each other seem a bit odd though. It is a peaceful monarchy and the crime rate is low. But it is also likely that crime and corruption figures are not what they seem. Or the survey could not capture the real mood of the people. The social distrust in Lebanon is easier to understand as it has just about recovered from terrible civil war.
In Asia, the level of trust that the Chinese feel in each other is amazing! 79 percent of the Chinese trust each other. I sensed this in China. We were there for just 8 days, but if one questioned any shop-keeper about the price, or they felt that we were suspicious, the Chinese would get offended. I am not sure why this is, as were were new to their culture. In India it is a done thing to question and ensure, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that one suspects the other. About the trust levels, it does seem as the communist regime in China has something to do with the high level of trust people feel in each other…no other Asian nation has these scores. Or were the Chinese giving the ‘right’ answers because they were afraid of consequences? I don’t know. It is more like that they feel ‘protected’ by their government against wrong-doers. It also means that at one level they trust their government.
In India too there are more people who trust each other (54 percent) than those who don’t (45 percent). Well, I guess it is our politicians that none of us trust…and we don’t trust the system.
Not at all surprising to know that Social Trust is low in Kenya. Crime, particularly violent crime, is high here. Tanzania is relatively more peaceful but even here only 41 percent of people trust each other. Poverty must play a part…as corruption and poverty are linked.
Luckily, Social Trust is not something carved in stone. It seems to go up and down according to the environment and pretty rapidly too. A decade or so seems to bring about changes…as new generations come into their own.
*(Samples were representative of the population “except in Bolivia, Brazil, China, India, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, South Africa, and Venezuela, where the samples were disproportionately or exclusively urban.”)