22 February 2021
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).Read more
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.Read less
Trust in public institutions is important at the best of times and is thus a prerequisite for implementing necessary policy reforRead more
Trust in public institutions is important at the best of times and is thus a 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 have recovered overall in the EU, perceived social exclusion has declined and there has been an increase in active citizenship and civic engagement. Improving the quality of public services was found to be the most powerful driver of boosting trust in institutions.
Findings from the Eurobarometer survey show that trust in the EU has remained relatively stable since 2017. However, the COVID-19 pandemic could have an impact on this trend. As COVID-19 spreads far and wide, trust in government and each other has never been a more central issue. Maintaining trust in institutions during these challenging times will be vital in ensuring a coordinated, comprehensive and effective response to the pandemic, as well as in designing the future of the EU.
- European Commission: Standard Eurobarometer 92
- European Commission: Strengthening the rule of law
- European Commission: Fighting disinformation
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.Read more
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).
- Publication: Societal change and trust in institutions
- Publication: Social cohesion and well-being in Europe
- Publication: Living and working in Europe 2019 (Yearbook)
COVID-19 and the impact on trust
The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe economic and social shock in living memory. It is having 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, aims to capture the most immediate changes and their impact, with the aim of helping to shape the response to this crisis. Two rounds of the survey have been carried out to date, allowing for comparison between the first round in April, when most Member States were in lockdown, and the second round in July, when society and economies were slowly reopening. Adapting EQLS questions, part of the survey focuses on people’s levels of trust in institutions, including the healthcare system, and optimism about the future.
The results show:
- Trust in the EU increased in July while trust in national governments declined. The largest increase was in Italy and Spain who were hard hit by the pandemic. Trust in both national governments and the EU is significantly higher among EU citizens that received financial support during the pandemic.
- The highest levels of institutional trust reported are in healthcare systems, compared to the other areas such as the media, national governments and the EU. At the same time, it is workers in the health sector who report feeling emotionally drained more often, confirming the high exposure of healthcare workers to difficult and emotionally demanding situations during the pandemic.
- 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.
The overview report and accompanying data are now available, with the option to explore the data for each round by country, age and gender.
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.
- Survey: European Company Surveys
- Publication: Innovative changes in European companies
- Forthcoming publication: European Company Survey 2019: Overview report
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.Read less
Key outputs over the years
Publications & dataTop
The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic.
- Publications tab (27)
- Data tab
- Ongoing work (1)
A selection of related data on this topic are linked below.
- Data: Living, working and COVID-19 dataset
- Data: Quality of life and quality of society during COVID-19
- Data: Quality of public services during COVID-19
- Data: European Quality of Life Survey 2016 - Data visualisation – See, for example, questions on access to public services, trust and social tensions, participation in society and community
- Data: European Working Conditions Survey 2015 – Data visualisation
- Data: European Company Survey - Data visualisation
Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles.