Age and Trust


Ernest Hemingway is credited with saying “The best way you can find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

Younger individuals could profit from this advice, or so suggests a new study from the Pew Research Center. The agency collected data from over 10,000 US adults, asking them about how much they trusted others. 

In the first set of questions, the researchers asked about whether people see others as selfish, exploitative, and untrustworthy. Sixty percent or more of people age 18-29 expressed such pessimism toward others. This figure was about twice as high as that expressed by people age 65 or older. 

The research organization used these responses to determine whether the respondents were “low trusters.” Almost half of young adults fell into this category—a figure distinctly higher than the 19 percent of adults age 65 or older who expressed such sentiments. 

The age differences also emerged for specific targets. People age 18-29 were less likely to express a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the military, religious leaders, police officers, business leaders, and public school principals. 

On the other hand, younger individuals expressed more positive sentiments toward journalists and college professors than did people age 65 or older. 

Though the age and trust diverged across a number of areas, there were two commonalities. About 83 percent of people trust scientists. Elected officials were on end of the spectrum, as roughly one in three had confidence in politicians. 

These findings suggest two key points. First, trust has generally declined in the country. This is true for their fellow Americans and for major institutions. 

Second, people generally become more trusting as they age. Of course, the world around them changes, too, so a host of factors can influence their perceptions.