Trust

19 May 2021

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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. 

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Recent updates

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EU context

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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. 

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Research

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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. 

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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 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. Three 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, the second round in July, when society and economies were slowly reopening, and the third round in March 2021, almost a year into living through the pandemic. 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 institutions has plummeted, especially trust in national governments which fell from 4.6 in summer 2020 to 3.9 in spring 2021. Trust in national governments across all Member States sank below levels recorded at the start of the pandemic. Trust in the EU also fell but remains higher than trust in national governments. 
  • Over a quarter of people living in Europe indicate a hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccine with men revealing themselves more hesitant (29%) than women (25%). Vaccine hesitancy is also associated strongly with low levels of trust and social media use, with countries that register low levels of trust in government registering higher levels of vaccine hesitancy. 
  • 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.

An overview report for the first two rounds is available, as well as a factsheet for the third round, along with a range of accompanying data pages, 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. 

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.

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Key outputs over the years

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Publications & data

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The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic. 

  • Publications (28)
  • Data
  • Ongoing work (1)

Data

A selection of related data on this topic are linked below.

Ongoing work

Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles.