Effects of Labor, Welfare, and Politics on Social Trust: A Comparative Perspective

Jeon, Seung Bong, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Guterbock, Thomas, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Wilcox, Bradford, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Polillo, Simone, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Schoppa, Leonard, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines two broad research questions: (1) Is the dominant explanation on social trust that emphasizes civic associations sufficient? (2) What explains the variation in social trust levels across nations and time, if other factors rather than civic associations have influenced social trust? Whereas many previous studies have focused on a positive relationship between civic participation and social trust, the influence of institutions and politics on social trust has been less explored. Extending the perspective in the social trust literature that underscores the role of politics and institutions in fostering a trusting culture, I suggest that labor market institutions and a type of welfare system can account for the variation in social trust across nations. Also, I insist that wholesomeness of political institutions and the degree in which civic liberties have been guaranteed in contemporary history bear on social trust. A multilevel analysis using the ISSP 2004 dataset lends support to the argument that institutional and political aspects matter for social trust. Specifically, fair and uncorrupt political institutions, generous public welfare, and labor market structures that decrease economic inequality increase social trust. Also, a cross-national comparison, in terms of the level of social trust among the leastand the best-educated citizens, indicates that a culture of social trust is shaped and maintained by political and institutional factors II mentioned above. The changes in institutions, specifically in labor market institutions and in welfare orientation, also explain changes in levels of social trust. Although the changes in social trust levels and changes in institutional arrangements are not directly associated, my panel-data analysis partly supports the importance of institutions which can reduce inequality. A historical case study of Sweden, the U.S., and South Korea also illustrates that the different developmental paths of labor market institutions and welfare orientation in three countries contribute to the variation in social trust levels. The significant implication of findings in this dissertation is that analyzing civic associations is insufficient to explain social trust. Rather, the role of institutions that support the principle of equality requires more attention to understanding social trust. In addition, civil liberties and wholesome political institutions are both necessary in promoting social trust.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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