Where You Stand Depends Upon Where Your Grandparents Sat: The Inheritability of Generalized Trust
Posted: 18 Aug 2009
Date Written: Winter 2008
Generalized trust is a stable value that is transmitted from parents to children. Do its roots go back further in time? Using a person's ethnic heritage (where their grandparents came from) and the proportion of people of different ethnic backgrounds in a state, I ask whether your own ethnic background matters more than whom you live among. People whose grandparents came to the United States from countries that have high levels of trust (Nordics, and the British) tend to have higher levels of generalized trust (using the General Social Survey from 1972 to 1996). People living in states with high German or British populations (but not Nordic populations) are also more trusting (using state-level census data). Italians, Latinos, and African Americans tend to have lower levels of trust, but it is not clear that country of origin can account for these negative results. Overall, there are effects for both culture (where your grandparents came from) and experience (which groups you live among), but the impact of ethnic heritage seems stronger.
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