A Matter of Trust

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Think the world is trying to rip you off? You're not alone. New research indicates that the number of Americans who believe most people can be trusted dropped from 50 percent in 1975 to 40 percent in 1994. The study by Pamela Paxton, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, relied on data from the General Social Survey - an ongoing nationwide survey of adults by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago - to measure two components of social capital: trust and the level of associations people had with others. While trust in individuals declined during the 20-year period, Paxton found that overall trust in institutions such as government and religion did not. Scandals may hurt the reputation of an institution in the short term, but trust eventually rebounds. "People still talk to their neighbors, still participate in associations, and generally trust the major institutions of society," she says, "but the decline in personal trust is troubling."

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