Trust and Well-being

John F. Helliwell, Shun Wang

NBER Working Paper No. 15911
Issued in April 2010, Revised in December 2011
NBER Program(s):Health Care, Public Economics, Political Economy

This paper presents new evidence linking trust and subjective well-being, based primarily on data from the Gallup World Poll and cycle 17 of the Canadian General Social Survey (GSS17). Because several of the general explanations for subjective well-being examined here show large and significant linkages to both household income and various measures of trust, it is possible to estimate income-equivalent compensating differentials for different types of trust. Measures of trust studied include general social trust, trust in co-workers, trust in neighbours, and trust in police. In addition, some Canadian surveys and the Gallup World Poll ask respondents to estimate the chances that a lost wallet would be returned to them if found by different individuals, including neighbours, police and strangers.

Our results reveal sufficiently strong linkages between trust and well-being to support much more study of how trust can be built and maintained, or repaired where it has been damaged. We therefore use data from the Canadian GSS17 to analyze personal and neighbourhood characteristics, including education, migration history, and mobility, that help explain differences in trust levels among individuals. New experimental data from Canada show that wallets are far more likely to be returned, even by strangers in large cities, than people expect.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15911

Published: Trust and Well-Being John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang International Journal of Wellbeing, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 42-78.

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