This paper explores how generalized trust develops over the life course among young people in England and whether trust is influenced more by family background factors or by conditions in late adolescence and early adulthood. If the latter are important, there may be reason for concern about falling levels of trust as material conditions, particularly regarding housing, have deteriorated for the present generation of young people. The first set of influences are highlighted by a perspective arguing that trust is primarily shaped by conditions in early childhood, while the latter are suggested by the so-called social learning perspective, which claims that people continuously adjust their social trust through interactions with people in different contexts. Analyzing data of the Citizenship Education Longitudinal Survey, the study finds that trust remains quite volatile until the early twenties. It declines between ages 16 and 23 and groups differing in educational attainment, civic participation and housing situation start to drift apart in their levels of trust between these ages. Educational attainment, civic participation and housing, as conditions pertaining to late adolescence and early adulthood, also turn out to have a significant impact on trust at age 23 controlling for trust at age 16. However, while the first two conditions are influenced by trust at age 16, housing (tenure) is not, indicating it is a more exogenous factor. Family background factors are not influential. Not only do these findings support the social learning perspective, they also suggest that poor living conditions depress trust among a significant minority of young people and exacerbate disparities of trust.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited