Confidence in Government and Happiness in EU and US

International Joint Workshop: Europe and North America - Societies in Contrast. Hanse Institute for Advanced Study Delmenhorst, Germany, 2005

46 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2015

See all articles by Sergiu Baltatescu

Sergiu Baltatescu

University of Oradea - Department of Sociology and Social Work

Date Written: March 8, 2005

Abstract

It is known that, for the last 35 years, US (and on a lesser extent, European Union) faces an abrupt decline in confidence in government. Among sources identified were cited: long-term secular changes in attitudes toward authority (Inglehart 1999), profound economic changes caused by the information revolution and globalization (Giddens 1990), “symbolic” changes in the political process that increased the distance between the political activists and the public (Lipset and Schneider 1983), and a more consistently negative approach by the press to government and other institutions (Nye Jr. 1997). On the other hand, the happiness levels in both unions proved to be rather stable, with a slow decreasing trend in US and mixed trends in EU countries (Veenhoven, 1999). Yet, at the individual level, trust in governmental institutions and happiness seem to be were slightly but significantly correlated. This association was only contextually approached and explanations given are rather conflicting: Lipset & Schneider (1983), for example, consider decline in confidence as a signal of “deep and serious discontent”, while Brehm & Rahn (1997) conclude that “Americans transfer their unhappiness about their own lives onto confidence about federal institutions”. This paper tries to explore the rather complicated relationship between those two important social trends, from a comparative perspective. A subset of European and North American countries was extracted from the four waves of World Values Surveys and European Values Surveys 1981-1984, 1990-1993, 1995-1997, and 1999-2001 (Inglehart, 2000, 2004). Following Listhaug & Wiberg (1995), I constructed an index of confidence in government institutions composed of four items to allow comparisons. Using these instruments, a general trend of cross-sectional variation of confidence in government institutions could be established, with sharp decline in the eighties and mixed patterns in the nineties. Happiness declined the entire time interval in US, but only in few European countries followed the same pattern. At aggregate level, significant correlation between those variables was observed in all waves. Countries with greater confidence levels also have greater happiness levels, and the correlation at cross-national level tend to increase with time. Moreover, at individual level, a significant correlation of around 0.15 between these variables was found in practically all countries across all waves. These results seem to demonstrate that, despite ups and downs in mean country levels of confidence in government and happiness, the structure of the relationship between these two variables across EU and US seems to converge.

Suggested Citation

Baltatescu, Sergiu, Confidence in Government and Happiness in EU and US (March 8, 2005). International Joint Workshop: Europe and North America - Societies in Contrast. Hanse Institute for Advanced Study Delmenhorst, Germany, 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2547180

Sergiu Baltatescu (Contact Author)

University of Oradea - Department of Sociology and Social Work ( email )

Universitatii nr. 1
Oradea, Bihor 410087
Romania

HOME PAGE: http://www.sergiubaltatescu.info

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