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Trust

Social or interpersonal trust concerns trust between individuals, while trust in institutions is defined as confidence in state organisations (parliament, government, the police or the courts) or non-state organisations (media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), churches or corporations). Trust in people and institutions is a factor in determining quality of society, is a powerful indicator of well-being both at individual and societal level, and is a major public concern of our times. As society changes, tensions, participation, community involvement and the role of government all impact on levels of trust. 

Topic

Recent updates

Policy pointers

  • Trust in all institutions and across all Member States continued to fall during the pandemic, with even those respondents who previously expressed higher trust levels, such as people in financially secure positions, becoming less trusting. Non-vaccinated respondents also report much lower trust in institutions than those who are vaccinated, and the gap has widened since 2021 with a trust score of 2.3 out of 10 for the non-vaccinated respondents compared to 5 for the vaccinated. 
  • Social media emerges as a key driver of declining trust, with an average trust score of 3 out of 10 for respondents who use social media as their preferred news source, which is much lower than 4.2 for those preferring traditional media. It will be critical for policymakers to combat the spread of misinformation to avoid undermining the stability of the Union in the coming period. 
  • To prevent those hardest hit by the impact of the crisis from falling further behind, policymakers will need to take a holistic approach to the provision of support. Failure to prevent the continued rise of inequalities among citizens and between Member States risks further undermining trust of Europeans in their institutions, as well as triggering political discontent.     
  • To restore trust in governments and the EU, it will be essential to understand and address people’s needs in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. The future of Europe debate has an important role to play in reaching out and listening to citizens’ concerns, particularly as the EU recovers from the pandemic and moves to a greener, more digital EU economy.    
  • Maintaining citizens’ trust in national and European institutions must remain a key focus in times of crisis as compliance with measures to control COVID-19 greatly depends on levels of trust in institutions and scientific advice. The increase in levels of institutional trust reported by respondents who benefited from support measures also sends a clear message to national governments and the EU.

Eurofound research

Aspects of trust are covered across a range of Eurofound research, in its surveys and other research linked with improving living and working conditions in the EU. 

Trust and quality of life

Eurofound’s European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) examines levels of trust among citizens in public institutions such as national governments, the legal system, the EU, the news media and the police. The latest survey, EQLS 2016, found that there is a general improvement in quality of society indicators, including an increased trust in national institutions. In particular, young people (18–24 years) registered the highest increase in trust in other people, possibly indicative of a new cohort less scarred by the economic crisis after 2008. 

Societal change, social cohesion and trust

Using the EQLS data, Eurofound has looked at societal change and trust in institutions. A number of questions were considered in determining the quality of society. How do we build trust in our institutions? What drives trust? What is the relevance of insecurity? 

Research based on the EQLS also examined European societies in terms of social cohesion, particularly social tensions, social exclusion, interpersonal trust and community engagement. It analysed the links between societal characteristics (quality of society) and well-being of different social groups, looking at how levels of societal tensions have changed in European societies over time (2003–2016). 

COVID-19 and the impact on trust

The COVID-19 pandemic, as the most severe economic and social shock in living memory, has had wide-ranging effects on people’s quality of life and work, including their perceptions of the society around them. Eurofound's unique e-survey, Living, working and COVID-19, aimed to capture the most immediate changes and their impact, with the aim of helping to shape the response to this crisis. Five rounds of the survey have been carried out, allowing for comparison during the different stages of living through the pandemic. Adapting EQLS questions, part of the survey focused on people’s levels of trust in institutions, including the healthcare system, and optimism about the future. 

Eurofound published the first results from the fifth round of the e-survey in July 2022. This was followed by a joint factsheet with the European Training Foundation presenting the final results in autumn 2022.

Using data from the e-survey, Eurofound examined how citizens’ trust in institutions – including national governments, the EU, science and the media – evolved during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. 

Innovation, working conditions and trust

Eurofound’s European Company Survey (ECS) examines trust between management and employees in European companies. The research shows a trusting relationship between employee representation and management, in combination with direct employee participation, is associated with higher levels of performance and well-being and creates a positive environment for innovative action. Trust is also an important element of well-functioning workplace social dialogue to deliver win–win outcomes. 

Looking at this from the working conditions perspective, the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) shows a positive association between different job quality indices and trust. It confirms that mutual trust between management and employees, as well as recognition and good cooperation, are important aspects of organisational management, resulting in positive outcomes both for the organisation and its workers.

Key outputs

Cover image for Eurofound's publication entitled 'Maintaining trust during the COVID-19 pandemic'

The report examines how citizens’ trust in institutions – including national governments, the EU, science and the media – evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The role...

16 november 2022
Publication
Research report
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As data from the European Quality of Life Surveys and Eurobarometer show, the sharp decline in trust in institutions was a temporary phenomenon during the recession. In some Member States...

13 december 2018
Publication
Research report

EU context

Trust in public institutions is an important prerequisite for implementing necessary policy reform. In terms of action that can facilitate trust in institutions, the EU takes measures in strengthening the rule of law, raising citizens’ awareness and fighting disinformation.

During the Great recession of 2008, trust in institutions declined sharply, but by 2016–2017 levels of trust and social cohesion recovered overall in the EU, perceived social exclusion declined and active citizenship and civic engagement increased. Improving the quality of public services was found to be the most powerful driver of boosting trust in institutions.

As COVID-19 has had far-reaching consequences, trust in government and each other has never been a more central issue. Maintaining trust in institutions during these challenging times is vital in ensuring a coordinated, comprehensive and effective response to the pandemic, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as in designing the future of the EU.

Eurofound expert(s)

daphne-ahrendt-2023.png

Daphne Ahrendt is a senior research manager in the Social Policies unit at Eurofound. Since joining Eurofound in 2013, her work has covered a broad range of social policy areas. At...

Senior research manager,
Social policies research unit
Publications results (23)

The urban-rural divide in EU countries has grown in recent years, and the depopulation of certain rural areas in favour of cities is a challenge when it comes to promoting economic development and maintaining social cohesion and convergence.

18 October 2023

This report investigates the social groups whose attachment to the labour market may be unstable and who are most likely to have non-standard working arrangements, and the implications of such arrangements, and job insecurity, for workers’ well-being, social exclusion, trust, perception of fairness

29 August 2023

Rapporten undersøger, hvordan borgernes tillid til institutioner — herunder de nationale myndigheder i EU, videnskaben og medierne — udviklede sig under covid-19-pandemien i 2020 og 2021. Mediernes rolle analyseres, navnlig sammenhængen mellem brugen af sociale medier og tillid, og konsekvenserne af

16 November 2022

Kvaliteten af institutionerne er en afgørende faktor for at opnå opadgående økonomisk og social konvergens i EU og spiller en afgørende rolle i at skabe økonomisk vækst, tiltrække udenlandsk investering, sikre gennemførelsen af politikker og reformer og få adgang til EU-midler. De offentlige

07 November 2022

Den femte runde af Eurofounds e-undersøgelse, der fandt sted fra den 25. marts til den 2. maj 2022, kaster lys over den sociale og økonomiske situation for mennesker i hele Europa to år efter, at covid-19 først blev opdaget på det europæiske kontinent. Den undersøger også, hvordan det er at leve i e

07 July 2022

A new European Disability Strategy was launched in 2021 with the aim of intensifying progress on ensuring the full participation of people with disabilities in society. The increase of EU policy focus on people with disabilities is timely: the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the challenges they faced in

21 March 2022

Efter en lang genopretningsperiode oven på den økonomiske krise (2007-2013) viste det sig, at de unge i EU var særligt sårbare over for virkningerne af de restriktioner, der blev indført for at bremse spredningen af covid-19-pandemien. Unge var mere udsat end ældre for at miste jobbet og for

09 November 2021

I mere end et årti har der været stigende usikkerhed om fremtiden i de fleste dele af EU. Mange mener, at samfundet er i tilbagegang, og det har givet anledning til generel pessimisme. Er der en sammenhæng mellem antiautoritære partiers stigende popularitet og den stigende pessimisme? Sådanne

16 September 2021

Den tredje runde af Eurofounds e-undersøgelse, som fandt sted i februar og marts 2021, kaster lys over den sociale og økonomiske situation blandt befolkningen i Europa efter næsten et helt år med covid-19-restriktioner. denne rapport analyserer de vigtigste resultater og følger den igangværende

10 May 2021

This report presents the findings of the Living, working and COVID-19 e-survey, carried out by Eurofound to capture the far-reaching implications of the pandemic for the way people live and work across Europe. The survey was fielded online, among respondents who were reached via Eurofound’s

28 September 2020

Blogs results (10)

The state in which the EU finds itself has been described as a ‘permacrisis’, whereby the Union is confronted by challenge after challenge, and citizens are constantly having to adapt to a ‘new normal’.

11 december 2023
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Trust in national institutions has declined across the EU over the past two years. Driven by increasingly difficult economic circumstances and unreliable news sources, even people who previously expressed higher trust levels – such as those in financially secure positions – have become less trusting

25 juli 2022
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The COVID-19 pandemic compelled governments to take exceptional measures to monitor and control the spread of the Coronavirus. Among them was the introduction in most EU Member States of tracking apps to gather data on citizens who have contracted the virus and to trace their contacts, a measure

13 januar 2021
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As Europe faces into what appears to be a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, concern is mounting about the evolution and dramatic impact of the disease, with rising numbers of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. There is also a growing focus on the repercussions for the economy, the labour

7 oktober 2020
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While we now know that the idea that ‘COVID-19 only affects older people’ is fake news, the first weeks of the pandemic have shown that young people are in general more resilient than older people to the disease. But are they also more resilient to its social and economic impacts?

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The impact of COVID-19 continues to create chaos in people’s lives across Europe and the world. The economy is heading towards another major dip, and a sense of general insecurity pervades. The daunting challenges confronting health services and projections on the long-term impact of the crisis

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Fear has been mounting in the debate around new technologies and the implications for the future of work. But the Coronavirus outbreak is unveiling some real positives of technological advances. Digital communication tools are supporting and enhancing working from home, while innovative companies

6 april 2020
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It is less than four weeks since the first large European Coronavirus-related company bankruptcy (Flybe, a British regional airline, on 5 March), but it is clear already that the pandemic is going to disrupt labour markets as seriously as the global financial crisis, if not more so. A large majority

2 april 2020
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In this blog, originally posted in Social Europe, Massimiliano Mascherini looks at the enduring issue of long-term unemployment among young people. Despite considerable improvement in the labour market participation of youth in recent years, the legacy of the crisis is still visible in the

17 april 2018
Data results (3)
12 december 2023
7 november 2023
Reference period:

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