Trust plays an essential role in explaining regional economic growth differences. Economic transaction depends on trust, as risk preference and trust behavior are important determinants of most economic decisions [1
]. Trust also affects schooling and the rule of law directly, which raises economic growth rates [2
]. The effects of trust on institutional development, corruption, subjective life satisfaction, willingness to pay, earnings management and corporate managers’ socially responsible activities have also been examined in various ways [3
However, which factors influence social trust? How is social trust formed? A growing body of literature on social trust has emphasized the significant impact of national culture and household background on regional social trust [7
]. La Porta, et al. [11
] find a negative association between trust and the dominance of a strong hierarchical religion in a country. Economic system is important and economic freedom may enhance social trust [14
]. Knack and Keefer [13
] suggest that trust is usually stronger in nations with higher and more equal incomes, and with better-educated and ethnically homogeneous populations and institutions that restrain the predatory actions of chief executives. Their opinions are supported by Bjørnskov [7
], who indicates that income inequality and ethnic diversity reduce trust. Dinesen, et al. [17
] reviewed the existing literature on the relationship between ethnic diversity and social trust, and found a statistically significant negative relationship between ethnic diversity and social trust across all their studies. Family cultural background can also affect social trust [15
]. Drawing upon a nationally representative sample of the German population, Gereke, et al. [18
] found that household poverty partially accounted for lower levels of trust. Moreover, with the data from a random web survey of college students, Valenzuela, et al. [19
] investigated the impact of online social networks on social trust and found a positive association between online social networks and social trust. Recent study also provides positive evidence for the relationship between trust and genetic factor [20
As one of the most essential factors in human history, the natural environment plays a vital role in people’s psychological performance. The relationships have been examined in various ways [21
]. Chew, et al. [21
] study the causal effect of haze on human personality preferences through natural experiments and find that people are more risk-averse, more impatient and more selfish in haze weather. Hanaoka, et al. [22
] indicate that earthquakes will change people’s risk appetite and they show that men who live in high-frequency earthquake areas will be more adventurous and radical, while women will be more risk-averse. Bernile, et al. [23
] find that natural disasters experienced in childhood play an important role in risk preference. People will be more risk-averse and conservative if they experience severe natural disasters.
Despite the massive physical and economic damage, natural disasters also affect social trust as societies need to work together to meet naturally occurring events [24
]. Many scholars have verified the relationship between natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and social trust [25
]. Veszteg, et al. [29
] found that mutual trust increased following the massive Tohoku earthquake that hit Japan in spring 2011. The influence of natural disasters on social trust may last for a long time. Lee [30
] suggests that the disaster experience is positively associated with trust: Japanese citizens with disaster experience had higher levels of in-group and out-group trust than those without disaster experience, and Tohoku residents showed higher levels of out-group, generalized, and political trust than the residents of other regions. Natural disasters affect not only social trust among people but also affect public trust in organizations. Nakayachi [27
] conducted two surveys to measure the public’s trust in risk-managing organizations, before and after the Tohoku Earthquake and the results showed that trust decreased in risk-managing organizations that deal with earthquakes and nuclear accidents, whereas trust levels related to many other hazards, especially in areas not touched by the Tohoku Earthquake, remained steady or even increased. Furthermore, scholars also investigate the reasons why public trust and political trust may change after natural disasters. The pre-disaster distrust, local officials’ impolite manners, and the gap between public expectations and the local government capacity in disaster relief impair trust in the local government [26
]. You, et al. [28
] used the Wenchuan earthquake as a natural experiment and found that public trust changes during the whole process of natural disaster. Due to the extensive media coverage, public trust in government officials rose significantly after the earthquake. Experimental economics methods have also been employed in investigating the impact of endogenous shocks such as natural disasters on social trust [1
]. Ahsan [1
] conducted a risk and trust game in Bangladesh and found that natural disasters could significantly reduce people’s risk-taking attitudes, whereas catastrophic events had no influence on trusting behavior. Fleming, et al. [31
] conducted a trust game experiment in earthquake-affected and non-affected rural villages after the 2010 Chilean earthquake, suggesting that trust levels did not differ across areas.
Even though there is a growing body of literature regarding natural disasters and its impact on social trust, most of them focus on massive natural disasters’ transitory influence. Trust is relatively stable over time [7
]. Uslaner [15
] showed that immigrants’ descendants whose grandparents came to the United States from countries that have high levels of trust tend to have higher levels of generalized trust. The natural disasters’ effect is not transitory, and it persists and actually increases over time [32
]. The experiments that Cassar et al. [25
] conducted in rural Thailand also supported this argument. They found that the 2004 tsunami led to substantial long-lasting increases in risk aversion, prosocial behavior, and impatience. When human beings face external risks, they need to cooperate to resist threats and social trust is improved [24
]. In the study of disasters, social association is regarded as one of the most basic social units that respond to disasters [33
]. Therefore, long-term natural disasters have played an essential role in enhancing social trust and social relationship networks in humankind’s long-term evolution [24
]. This paper uses long-term agricultural production natural risk data and micro-survey data to verify the impact of long-term natural disasters on social trust.
China is a country with a long history of natural disasters such as floods, droughts and earthquakes. Among all kinds of disasters, floods and droughts disasters have the widest distribution and the most damage to agricultural production and the human race in China [35
]. Thus, we use long-term floods and droughts data which are derived from the Atlas of Droughts and Floods Distribution in China over the Last 500 Years and its extended data to estimate the long-term natural disaster frequency. We argue that long-term natural disasters affect people’s behavior in the long-term process and strengthen the level of cooperation to resist risks, thereby promoting regional social trust. As far as we know, our paper is one of very few to explore how long-term natural disasters influence social trust.
Employing data from China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) in 2012, we use the Logit model to investigate the impact of long-term natural disaster frequency on social trust. We find that people in regions with higher long-term natural disaster frequency are more likely to trust others. With the ordered Probit model, we further address the impact of long-term natural disaster frequency on the trust of specific groups such as parents, neighbors, Americans, strangers, cadres, and doctors. The results indicate that the influence of long-term natural disasters varies from group to group. In areas with higher long-term natural disaster frequency, people are more likely to trust neighbors and doctors; however, the impacts of long-term natural disaster frequency on parents, Americans, strangers and cadres are not significant. A possible explanation is that people have to seek cooperation and help from neighbors and doctors in areas where long-term natural disasters are frequent.
We further compare the impact of long-term natural disaster frequency on social trust in southern China and northern China. The evidence indicates that natural disaster frequency significantly impacts trust in both regions. Interestingly, flood frequency has a significantly positive relationship with social trust only in southern China and the impact of long-term drought frequency is significant only among the northern China samples. This may be due to the dominance of floods in the South and droughts in the North.
The remainder of the paper proceeds as follows. In Section 2
, we present data sources and descriptive evidence. Section 3
shows the empirical analysis of the impact of long-term natural disasters on social trust. In Section 4
, we further discuss the results based on geographical division. The impact of long-term natural disasters on social trust is investigated respectively in southern China and northern China. Section 5
concludes the paper.
3. Empirical Methodology and Results
Our research investigates whether long-term natural disaster frequency has an effect on social trust. Since the general trust level variable is binary (1 = most people can be trusted, 0 = you can’t be too careful), we use the Logit model to conduct the regression analysis, and the results are shown in Table 2
. We first use long-term natural disaster frequency as the key independent variable to explain the general trust level, and the results are listed in Columns R1 and R2. Long-term natural disaster frequency has a significant positive effect on generalized trust. After controlling other variables, the influence of long-term natural disaster frequency is still significant. Flood and drought are different natural disasters and people’s cooperation behavior may vary with different kinds of natural disasters. Thus, we also testify the impact of floods frequency and droughts frequency on generalized trust. The results in Columns R3-R6 in Table 1
indicate that floods and droughts still have significant positive impacts on generalized trust. Compared with droughts, floods have a greater impact on generalized trust. The coefficient of flood frequency is larger than the coefficient of drought frequency.
We further analyze whether the effect of long-term natural disaster frequency on trust depends on the person to whom the trust is extended to the average level of social trust in specific groups as the dependent variable. Table 3
reports the results of ordinary least squares (OLS) regression. Similar to the regression results of general trust levels, the frequency of natural disasters has a significant positive impact on the average level of social trust in specific groups. The significant impact mainly comes from drought disasters instead of flood disasters, which imposes significant positive effects on the overall trust in certain groups of people.
Does the effect of long-term natural disaster frequency on trust depends on the person to whom the trust is extended to? We respectively examine the influence of long-term natural disaster frequency on the trust of six specific groups of people (parents, neighbors, Americans, strangers, cadres, and doctors). The Likert Scale form of this question in the questionnaire is essentially an orderly choice one, so we use the Ordered Probit model to conduct the analysis. The results are shown in Table 4
. For different groups of people, the impact of long-term natural disaster frequency has significant differences. Long-term natural disasters significantly affect the trust of the local population in their neighbors and doctors. The higher the frequency of natural disasters, the higher the local people’s trust in neighbors and doctors. This is consistent with the hypothesis of this article: in areas where the natural risk of agricultural production is high and natural disasters are frequent, people often seek cooperation from neighbors, and when they encounter physical injuries during the disasters, they need to seek help from doctors. Therefore, the trust inward neighbors and doctors will be significantly higher. In contrast, the impact of long-term natural disasters on the trust in Americans and strangers, those that do not usually come into contact with the respondents, is both economically and statistically insignificant.