Skip to content

The trust that humans have in each other varies from country to country

April 18, 2008

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.

Pwe Social Trust Survey 2

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?

Pew Social Trust Survey 3

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.

Pew Social Trust Survey

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.”)

Related Reading: Violent Crime in the World
Conviction rates of the world – a comparison
Rich countries are less corrupt

Social Bookmarks:
29 Comments leave one →
  1. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    April 18, 2008 9:08 am


    As purely hypothetical reasoning, I would imagine that the degree of mutual distrust between individuals in any society is directly correlated to the degree of socio-economic disparity in that society, and to its ethnic diversity. However this hypothesis not borne out prima facie by the charts you present. This is obviously a topic for much more research.

  2. lallopallo permalink
    April 18, 2008 10:37 am

    Interesting post Nita!. I went through the original article too.
    Iam bit surprised that Canadians have come out to be significantly more trustworthy of each other compared to Americans.
    Now compare this with Hofstede’s classic cross-cultural dimensions, which put Canadians and Americans almost at par with each other..
    I live in Canada and I have also worked closely with/personally known quite a few Americans. There are,fore sure, some differences, – Americans more friendly but less polite etc- but most of the time, differences are not that significant
    I guess one reason could be economic/social disparity in both countries in terms of..though US is much more richer overall, it has also has much more homeless/less educated/poor people…Hofstede’s survey was done among business executives of all the countries-in which case Canadians & Americans will have much more similarities-, but this survey must have been done among general public..hence these results

    On a lighter note, Iam reminded of the movie ‘ Hollywood Ending’ where Woody Allen’s character says, ‘ it’s so cold in, I know why there is no crime there’

  3. lallopallo permalink
    April 18, 2008 10:58 am

    Sorry for the typos & extra’s late here..

  4. April 18, 2008 11:21 am

    Do you trust me? ๐Ÿ˜€
    Come on now, trust me ๐Ÿ˜›

    Ok, I know it ridicules comment, but you know one thing? Nearly everyone is aware of this fact and no one is really concerned about it. And India? People in urban area tend not to trust anybody if they can help it!! In other than urban are(towns and less modernized places), people have a bond of trust in every aspect of daily routine.
    I am bored of typing so I think you get what I mean. (Nita, you have lived in Pune, haven”t you?)

  5. April 18, 2008 3:48 pm

    Bein a Canadian, I agree!! :))

  6. April 18, 2008 4:18 pm

    I really don’t know what I agreed to though. hehehe I agree to anything nice being said about Canadians :p.

  7. April 18, 2008 4:44 pm


    Nice post ! But I don’t trust these opinion polls ! ๐Ÿ˜€


    I agree with you.

    Poverty everywhere is a threat to prosperity anywhere.

    Islands of wealth will be washed away by tsunamis from the ocean of poverty.

    Disparity,corruption and capitalism all spell distrust.

  8. April 18, 2008 5:58 pm

    wow! i can’t believe in India we trust each other so much! but there should be a split on who trusts who…as you said we don’t trust the politicians…and then there will be others..

  9. April 18, 2008 9:21 pm


    Of the US, Canada, and Japan I feel the latter is the most trust worthy. Except for the Americans present, I felt the safest walking in Okinawa at night. I remember being on the school bus and seeing a discman someone had left at a bus stop. It was still there later in the day. The overall crime rate in Japan is extremely low, and the majority of those are due to Americans and other foreigners. Our houses and most often the car were always left unlocked. Also in Japan, it’s considered rude to count change received at a store because cashiers should be trusted in doing their job properly, nor did I ever find myself shorted later on.

    Since coming to N. America I’ve learned to lock my doors and count change. In Montreal, CA my car got broken into (window smashed) and while a friend was working late at night there was a gun pulled out, though not specifically at her- thankfully, and she quit shortly after. It’s a toss up where I feel safer, NYC or Montreal. In my opinion, Canada is a bit more trust worthy than the US.

  10. April 18, 2008 9:54 pm

    Vivek, yes you are right, this subject is very complex. Social Trust is dependent on many factors but if one looks at it superficially the economic conditions seem to matter the most, it seems to be the single most important factor..but there are exceptions, like Japan.

    Lallopallo, One of my best friends lives in Canada and whenever she comes to Mumbai she tells me what a wonderfully peaceful place Canada is! I think basically Canadians are very different from Americans, like you said more self-contained, reserved. By a strange coincidence two of my oldest regular readers (right from the second month onwards) are Canadians and by reading their blogs I have got to know a lot about Canadian life.

    Suda, for some odd reason I do trust you! ๐Ÿ™‚ Call it instinct but usually I react to people instinctively. About the urban rural bit you have brought up an interesting point. It is interesting to know that the survey in India took place only in urban areas. I wonder if they had taken into account the rural areas there would have been higher trust? Worth thinking about. Remember that many places in rural India have a feudal set up and I wonder how that would impact social trust. Perhaps the clear lines drawn between the classes and castes and sexes would make for a more ordered (though unequal) society and perhaps that would inculcate more trust.

    Canada it seems is a country which people love a great deal!

    I thought you didn’t subscribe to any idealogy?

    the behavior of politicians percolates down to so many levels…to the police force, the bureaucrats, big businesses, laws and regulations…

    Japan has less crime, and therefore I could not understand the average levels of trust in the society. Why do you think that people who were interviewed in Japan said they do not trust the others? Is the political atmosphere like that?

  11. April 18, 2008 11:37 pm


    Ofcourse,I don’t subscribe to any kind of ideology !

    But everyone has a right to subscribe to what they want to,don’t they? ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think the social democracy/respect for human rights/respect for diversity of the E.U. is the best model !

    But yes,I don’t trust capitalism and I absolutely hate ‘free market capitalism’ and feudalism !

    What I meant by saying that I agree was Vivek was those two statements in my previous comment.I think those two statements are correct !

  12. lallopallo permalink
    April 19, 2008 12:25 am

    Mish, Iam sorry to learn about your bad experiences in Montreal, but having lived here since past five years, this is the safest city I have known to live. There is no mugging ( almost a done thing in all major US cities), no racist swearing by junkies, no terrorist threats to the city, no eve teasing even during the middle of the night to the scantiest of dressed pretty girls….
    I am not that well traveled in terms of living in many countries, but those Montrealers who are, vouch for Montreal as safest cities to live..

  13. April 19, 2008 12:57 pm

    Raj, ofcourse they do. The only reason I asked you that question is because you have a couple of times said you do not subscribe to any political ideology. Everyone has a right to believe in whatever they wish to. That is what makes every human being different doesn’t it!

  14. April 19, 2008 10:31 pm


    Absolutely !

    But things that appear ‘free’ may not always be ‘free’ or ‘fair’,like ‘free trade’ or ‘free market capitalism’ ! ๐Ÿ˜ก

    But ‘fair trade’ is both ‘free’ and ‘fair’ in the true sense ! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Guqin permalink
    April 20, 2008 3:18 am

    “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 otherโ€ฆno other Asian nation has these scores. Or were the Chinese giving the โ€˜rightโ€™ answers because they were afraid of consequences?”
    Standard and amazing prejudice.

    However, there are two kinds of trust, that in the person and that in the person’s ability to follow social binding conventions. China’s is mostly the first, but I guess weak in the later. USA’s is the reverse, for instance, Americans don’t trust each other the person, but they trust each other in carrying out the orders given by the court etc. a sort of impersonal trust. Currency depends on this type of trust. Morality the first type.

  16. Guqin permalink
    April 20, 2008 3:22 am

    Marriage requires both types.

  17. April 20, 2008 7:09 am

    Thanks Gugin. I was hoping you would give feedback. I did put a question mark you know, which meant I didn’t know and I was asking. However I do admit I am heavily prejudiced against communism. But by the way I have a high opinion of the Chinese people and I have no doubt that there is personal trust. I got a feel of it myself in China and I liked it. Its such a relief to be able to trust people to be honest. You have made a very important distinction between personal trust and impersonal trust. Brilliant!
    Most people could very well confuse the two. However I am still a little confused about Japan. I believe that personal trust is high in that society as Mish said, and I have heard that you need not even lock your doors in Japan from people I know who have lived there…so I wonder why Japan has average scores.

  18. Guqin permalink
    April 20, 2008 7:29 am


    You may have over-estimated China’s trust, the cultural revolution has damged emormously both the personal and impersonal trust among Chinese people. But traditional China was indeed a trusting society. Maybe tradition is coming back? After all, Chinese China is 5000 years old, communist China is only 60 years.

    Not so sure about Japan. I think Japan has an extremely high impersonal trust, their low score here may only reflect their personal trust.

  19. April 20, 2008 7:48 am

    Gugin, you said:

    After all, Chinese China is 5000 years old, communist China is only 60 years.

    You have put China into perspective. People (non-Chinese) lose sight of this far too often.

  20. Guqin permalink
    April 20, 2008 8:19 am


    Your article has set me thinking

    Impersonal trust requires honesty but sincerity. Personal trust requires sincerity but honesty.

    Honesty is just about saying what one thinks without lying, but it doesn;t garantee the quality of the thought. Sincerity is about the good quality of the thought, but one may not state it honestly. Hitler is honest but sincere.

    With my own experience, Chinese people are sincere but less honest, Americans are honest but less sincere. I think that can be said loosely between easterners and westerners. As a result, eastern societies have better personal trust but less impersonal trust, and the reverse is true in western societies. Democracy, law bindings, etc. require impersonal trust which is not enough a common virtue in most eastern societies. Perhaps that explains part of the failure of democracy in there? In contracts, ethics, spirituality etc. require personal trust which isn;t suffient in the western world, and perhaps that explains part of the secularity of their societies (family failures, low quality inter-personal relation etc.)?

  21. April 20, 2008 9:22 am


    You have hit the nail on the head about honesty and sincerity !

    Honesty is the best policy !

    You mentioned that Hitler was honest but not (necessarily) sincere.

    That is why I prefer Hitler to another modern day “world leader” whom I do not want to name here.Atleast Hitler was courageous enough to state what he thought.That is less dangerous than saying one thing and doing the exact opposite.I prefer brutal honesty to shameless hypocrisy !

    By the way,if you do not feel offended,I must say you seem to have a very poor view of democracy,maybe because democracy is a product of Greco-Roman civilisation.But if democracy was so bad,why should North Korea call itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea? (ofcourse the German Democratic Republic is history now ๐Ÿ˜ )

  22. April 20, 2008 9:27 am

    “Honesty is just about saying what one thinks without lying”

    Well said !

    Honesty is also about speaking the Truth

  23. Guqin permalink
    April 20, 2008 11:58 pm


    Democracy itself isn’t bad, but it is only a path but the goal. It requires some spiritual guidance. US, without the guidance has chosen the same bad person as it is leader two terms in a roll, which proves the limitations of democracy.

    And politicians in a democracy are short-visioned since they serve terms and can not lay visionary plans for the future generations to come.

    And citizens in a democracy often evolve into moral and intellectual laziness and irresponsibility, like many citizens in US, knowing only two things: war and protest.

    Not saying that central governmentation is good, but I think democracy is not the way out.

  24. April 21, 2008 1:43 am

    On Point had a week-long series of programs on China talking to various people and discussing wide-ranging issues (including the hot button topic of Olympics). The podcasts are all available on their website for free, if anyone is interested in listening to what the Chinese people have to say. I’d definitely recommend if you have the time.

  25. April 21, 2008 6:57 pm

    Amit I was appalled by what I read. I had an inkling of this but didn’t know the extent to which the Chinese nationalists are going. Nationalism is the right word. Nationalism is not patriotism. Nationalism is fanaticism. One has to be aware of the evils of one’s own government otherwise it is like living in a a bubble.
    Thanks for the link!

    Those new to the blog might be interested in a post I wrote on Nationalism vs Patriotism.

  26. April 21, 2008 9:18 pm


    Thanks for posting that link.I liked the last one about migrant workers.India (and some other countries) are similar to China in a few ways . . . all because of ‘free market capitalism’ ! ๐Ÿ˜ก


    I agree with you.Nationalism is a curse ! Nationalists never criticise their governments but choose to criticise other people who are truly patriotic !

  27. April 21, 2008 10:27 pm

    Thanks Raj for your inputs on this thread. It is indeed a more sensitive subject that I thought…or rather it has many ramifications.

    Gugin, I am a little flummoxed by your opinion on democracy but I don’t want to argue with you as this is not a debate one can have so easily. Also political beliefs can be very strong and it can be dificult to to convince the other, infact I usually do not try to as one develops these opinions because of one’s experiences. You have clearly had some bitter experiences with American democracy and I am sorry for that. I have had wonderful experiences with Indian democracy, as it allows people freedom to speak their mind. It results in a lot of chaos but it works in the long run . In fact democracy is the light that will lead India out of the tunnel it is in. I can already see a bright shining light.
    And it is my belief that China will one day become a democracy. In fact its leaders have realised it too and they are going to start the process. I wrote a post on the Chinese dilemma which is basically a summary of an interview that the BBC did with Lord Patten, the ex gov of Hong Kong. Most absorbing interview and he gives a good insight into China.

  28. Guqin permalink
    April 22, 2008 7:10 am


    As I answered Raj, democracy itself isn’t bad, but it is not a goal but only a path. Without a guidance it has bred a bunch of unspeakably self-centered hypocrites and fake artists in the western world. The fashionable modern mistake is to pursue it as a goal.

    “China becomes a democracy”, maybe, but quality men or women RULE, this Confucian principle should hold true. I bet, Gandhi is with me.

    I am not sure what you mean Gugin, but one thing I can tell you but democracy allows the wrong people to be outed. The only system which allows it. Therefore I see an inherent contradiction in your statements. But if people itself want certain leaders (like you mentioned in one of your comments) then it is the business of that country, no one else’s. If one hates a country, there is no compulsion to live in it. The people who vote for the politicians are happy, thats what matters. – Nita.

  29. Guqin permalink
    April 25, 2008 10:01 am


    Sorry, I missed your reply.

    I meant, democracy is only a path to deliver the right individuals to the top posts. In theory, yes, democracy can remove the wrong individuals without a revolution, but, a democratic culture will decay in itself(seen culturally), so at the end, it makes no difference to replace a wrong one with another wrong one.

    Reason for decay, see this true story:
    About 10 years ago, Kasparov played “against the world”. He posted a move on line, world people answered, the one move most voted was to be chosen to answer Kasparov. A democratic process,
    but something was intrincly wrong here: the voted one by definition was at the level of the average, thus the game was in essence between a Grandmaster and an average player. Here lies the deception of democracy.

    To my observation, democracy as a culture/society/civilization is like a 100M runner. Non-democractic ones like India and China (and Ancient Egypt, no more around yet had a long life) are Marathon runners. After 5000 years of superiority, we enter the tracks where western civilizations are doing 100M, we seem so slow, and are immpressed by their speeds without know that we have a much longer distance to cover.

    Like I said, democracy isn’t bad in itself, as a path, we can use it to a certain degree, but we can not pursue it as a culture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: