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Trust and Well-being

  • John F. Helliwell
  • Shun Wang

This paper presents new evidence linking trust and subjective well-being, based primarily on data from the Gallup World Poll and cycle 17 of the Canadian General Social Survey (GSS17). Because several of the general explanations for subjective well-being examined here show large and significant linkages to both household income and various measures of trust, it is possible to estimate income-equivalent compensating differentials for different types of trust. Measures of trust studied include general social trust, trust in co-workers, trust in neighbours, and trust in police. In addition, some Canadian surveys and the Gallup World Poll ask respondents to estimate the chances that a lost wallet would be returned to them if found by different individuals, including neighbours, police and strangers. Our results reveal sufficiently strong linkages between trust and well-being to support much more study of how trust can be built and maintained, or repaired where it has been damaged. We therefore use data from the Canadian GSS17 to analyze personal and neighbourhood characteristics, including education, migration history, and mobility, that help explain differences in trust levels among individuals. New experimental data from Canada show that wallets are far more likely to be returned, even by strangers in large cities, than people expect.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15911.

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Date of creation: Apr 2010
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Publication status: published as Trust and Well-Being John F. Helliwell and Shun Wang International Journal of Wellbeing, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 42-78.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15911
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  1. Helliwell, John F., 2003. "How's life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective well-being," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 20(2), pages 331-360, March.
  2. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew Oswald, 2007. "Is Well-being U-Shaped over the Life Cycle?," NBER Working Papers 12935, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Alberto Alesina & Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, 2001. "Inequality and Happiness: Are Europeans and Americans Different?," NBER Working Papers 8198, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Easterlin, Richard A, 2001. "Income and Happiness: Towards an Unified Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(473), pages 465-84, July.
  5. Adolfo Morrone & Noemi Tontoranelli & Giulia Ranuzzi, 2009. "How Good is Trust?: Measuring Trust and its Role for the Progress of Societies," OECD Statistics Working Papers 2009/3, OECD Publishing.
  6. Wen-Chun Chang, 2009. "Social capital and subjective happiness in Taiwan," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 36(8), pages 844-868, June.
  7. Stephen Knack & Philip Keefer, 1997. "Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1251-1288.
  8. Yip, Winnie & Subramanian, S.V. & Mitchell, Andrew D. & Lee, Dominic T.S. & Wang, Jian & Kawachi, Ichiro, 2007. "Does social capital enhance health and well-being? Evidence from rural China," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 35-49, January.
  9. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada, 2005. "Income and well-being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(5-6), pages 997-1019, June.
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