In Education We Trust? How Educational Institutions Matter for Social Trust

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
CLM.4.02 (Clement House)
Marcus Osterman, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
This paper focuses on how education and the design of educational institutions matter for the development of social or generalised trust. Counter to what might be expected, education has received surprisingly little attention in previous research on trust. What is more, the existing studies have only considered how the length of education may affect trust. The methodological approaches have also been comparatively weak, relying on cross sectional data, and thus give dubious support for causal inference.

The present paper argues that to study the effect of education on trust, it is important to make a difference between the length of education and its institutional organisation. While the former is important, it is argued that the circumstances under which we spend our years in education should be of equal relevance for the development of trust. The institutional variation in education is substantial across countries. How homogenous are school and classes? What kind of other pupils do I meet in school? Our experiences from these early and formative years may arguably be of crucial importance for the development of trust in people in general.

How the institutional context of education affects trust is, however, in large unexplored. The present study, in contrast to previous research, makes use of a comparative institutional perspective in the study of how education may affect trust.

Social trust has been showed to be positively related to all from health outcomes to economic growth and low levels of corruption. High levels of trust are also closely connected to the support for redistribution and a generous welfare state.

The empirical approach is based on institutional reforms across countries and time, coupled with individual level survey data on trust from the European Social Survey programme. Making use of institutional reforms improves the possibilities of controlling the causal analysis for country specific factors that may otherwise bias the results. Different birth cohorts are studied and put in relation to the timing of institutional reform – thereby creating institutional variation over time, with-in countries.

The contribution of the paper is twofold. Firstly, stronger empirical support for how the length of education matters for social trust. Secondly, new results on how the institutional design of education affects the development of trust.