Social Trust

Social trust is a “belief that people generally treat others fairly rather than try to maximize their own gain at others’ expense” (Flanagan & Stout, 2010, p. 748).  While interpersonal trust (trust between friends and other people you know) can be a foundation for social trust, it is not the same. Social trust has been positively associated with:

  • Cooperation
  • Tolerance
  • Volunteering
  • Giving to charity
  • Participation in public affairs

Late adolescents are more likely to have capacity to develop social trust than their younger peers because they are more able to conceive of abstract groups, more able to differentiate between their personal experiences and broader experiences, and because their experience base is broader (Flanagan & Stout, 2010).  By the same token, however, younger adolescents are more malleable to learning social trust.  Their experiences as young adolescents will influence their later perceptions of the trustworthiness of others and social institutions.

Similarly, youth that feel oppressed based on race or class, or living in “stressful, poor, and often violent communities frequently lack a sense of security or optimism,” and do not believe “that society will reward efforts and achievements among racially oppressed minorities” (Schwartz & Suyemoto, 2012, p.2).  In other words, it is very difficult for these youth to build social trust.  For these youth, social trust is typically not a precursor for civic engagement.

Thus, social trust is an important indicator for programs to measure.  It is helpful to see the extent to which youth have social trust so issues around social trust can be discussed.  It is important to note that while social trust can serve as a precursor for civic engagement activities, some youth will not experience social trust until after they have civic engagement experience.

By Urban Institute


Sources Cited

Flanagan, C. & Stout, M. (2010). Developmental patterns of social trust between early and late adolescence: Age and school climate effects. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20(3), 748-773.

Schwartz, S. & Suyemoto, K. (2012). Creating change from the inside: Youth development within a youth community organizing program. Journal of Community Psychology, 00:00, 1-18.