Trust Papers Series #1 – Trust and Monarchy

Trust makes reconciliation possible. That’s what’s led me to my research on trust and society-wide trust, often called social trust. There are a massive number of papers in political science and economics that try to establish the causes and consequences of social trust. I’ve spent the last few years reading them. In light of my work, I’m starting a series of posts on my favorite trust papers, and I hope to share new papers as I read them. If any trust researchers are reading this post, please send me your papers. I can’t promise to post them all, but I’d love for this blog to become a place where you can share your work.

I’ll begin the series by sharing one of my favorite trust papers. I like it in part because it contains a really weird result – monarchies are more trusting than non-monarchies.

The paper explores the determinants of generalized trust across countries. The findings suggest that only few variables can be considered significant. Social polarization in the form of income inequality and ethnic diversity reduces trust, Protestantism and having a monarchy increases trust while post-communist societies are less trusting than other. The findings also provide support for the use of a standard indicator as a stable measure of generalized trust and emphasize the importance of taking endogeneity seriously.

My sense is that monarchy promotes trust because it provides people with a high status, non-partisan person. So people can unite around someone who seems to transcend some salient social cleavages.

The paper has other interesting results too. Protestantism promotes trust. I think the reason is that Protestant countries tend to break up large families, since large families can tempt people to only trust their clan and not their institutions or people from different walks of life. Post-communist societies are less trusting, and here my guess is that communist countries have secret police, so you never know if you can trust someone not to report you and get you sent off to Siberia.


  • Robert A Gressis Posted September 25, 2019 9:51 am

    As Protestantism, my hunch would be that Protestantism is a more individualistic, and individualizing, religion than most. Consequently, there may be less clannishness in Protestant countries. It may even be a way of reducing the deleterious effects of ethnic diversity on trust — since Catholicism is more of a communal religion than Protestantism, having more Catholics may exacerbate a sense of otherness whereas more Protestants mitigate it. Just spitballing here.

    • Kevin Posted September 25, 2019 11:59 am

      Actually, this is a pretty common line of reasoning among trust theorists. If clans erode, people have to rely more on institutions and broader social networks, which over time, leads them to transfer their trust from the clan to institutions and society more broadly.

  • Kristine Posted September 30, 2019 2:12 am

    Do you have evidence that Protestantism erodes extended families? Even if there is a correlation, is it causal? Or is that a hunch?

  • Miles Posted January 9, 2020 2:46 am

    Hey, Kevin. I just picked up *The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread* by two philosophers of science. They discuss some interesting lit on trust and polarization, some of which involve interesting models that may inform your work in some way (while you are focused on politics and the authors of the book on science, you will find many of their anecdotes, e.g. climate change or vaccines, have broad overlap –not to mention their argument is that everyday people socially form beliefs and reason much like scientists in fact do).

    Just to take one example, the authors cite this paper that may be of interest to you:

    Hoping this is in any way helpful!

    • Kevin Posted January 11, 2020 12:44 pm

      Thank you!

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