by Connie Flanagan and Leslie Gallay
CIRCLE releases a new working paper (#61) “Adolescent Development of Trust.”Below is a summary of the paper. Click here to download the report.
Report Summary: Trust is often found to correlate with civic engagement. While there is a general belief that the foundations for trust develop prior to adulthood, there is no work examining dimensions of trust during adolescence.
Surveys of 1,670 students ages 12-19 from 80 social studies classes in the United States suggest that adolescents distinguish between various dimensions of trust but that there is very likely a ‘disposition to trust’ underlying the moderate to strong correlations between the various dimensions of trust. One conclusion is that there is a general ‘diffuse support for the system’ underlying these results. That is, youth who are disposed to trust humanity or people in general (Social Trust) also tend to see the government and elected officials in a positive light and also endorse the fundamental fairness of the principles of the system, i.e., believe that America is basically an equal opportunity society where anyone can get ahead by dint of hard work. This may point to an optimistic or trusting disposition underlying these relationships. However, as the early political socialization theories claimed, trust in the system is distinct from support for particular administrations in power at any one time.
Students from ethnic minority backgrounds were less likely than their ethnic majority peers to trust elected officials or people in general or to believe that the government was interested in ordinary people.
However, ethnic minority students were not less likely to believe in the general tenets of the American promise, i.e., that all people, regardless of background, had an equal opportunity to succeed in America. Aspects of the school climate and learning practices were associated with various dimensions of trust. Controlling for social class, age, and ethnicity, adolescents’ trust in the American promise and their civic commitments are significantly predicted by the youths’ proximate experiences of social inclusion in their communities and (especially for ethnic minority students) by their reports that their teachers practiced a democratic ethos at school, i.e., insisted on tolerance and respect and encouraged an open exchange of views between students.