Generalized Trust, Cultural Diversity and Institutions
Project Description
Most researchers agree that a positive and reciprocal relationship exists between the quality of democratic governance and a series of cultural attributes: values, norms, beliefs, and knowledge. The cross-national studies conducted since the beginning of 1990s (most notably the World Values Surveys and the European Values Surveys) indicate an enduring difference between East and West with regard to the political culture and civic engagement of citizens. In addition, many of the national surveys conducted repeatedly over time show not only persistent difference but the lack of convergence (e.g. Badescu and Radu, 2010).
In this project, we focus on generalized trust, one of the key constitutive elements of civic culture important for a well-functioning democracy (e.g. Almond and Verba 1963, Putnam 1993, 2000).

Generalized trust is the faith you place in people you do not know, especially those who are different from yourself (Uslaner 2002). Such trust implies one?s openness to the world with an implicit assumption that others will contribute to a common good, or at least will not intentionally harm us (Offe 1999). The theoretical importance of generalized trust rests in its role in overcoming collective action problems (Coleman 1990; Newton 1999; Putnam 1993). Through facilitating cooperation among people, generalized trust contributes to a host of desirable outcomes including encouraging norms of reciprocity, tolerance, and civic morality, all of which are necessary features of good governance under democratic institutions (Sullivan and Transue 1999, Letki 2006). Moreover, corruption has been found to be more prevalent in countries where generalized trust is low (Uslaner 2011). This finding holds even for countries that possess seemingly positive attributes, like a well-educated citizenry. Romania finds itself in this position: one of the lowest levels of generalized trust in the EU, with one of the highest scores on most measures of corruption, while being one of the few countries with almonst nonexistent positive effects of education on liberal democratic attitudes among its citizens.

At the same time, the proportion of Romanians working abroad is one of the highest in the world. Available evidence shows that trust levels among migrants who have returned to Romania tends to be lower than the rest of the population (Badescu and Sum 2009). Additionally, trust levels among family members, especially children who remain in Romania, might be adversely affected.
The project considers these facts, low levels of trust, corruption, mitigated education payoffs, and migrant patterns to be interdependent and not the result of spurious inferences due to a common exogenous influence. On the contrary, we assert that simultaneous placement on such extreme ranks results from a series of mutually reinforcing causal linkages. Our task is to strengthen the models used to discern these interrelated phenomena to inform public policy makers in diagnosing and proposing solutions to some of Romania?s most pressing problems.

In recent years, both experimental and survey-based research have turned out an impressive amount of
evidence on the possible determinants of trust. However, a recent review of these works by Hardin (2006: 74) concludes that “there is relatively little to learn about trust from these two massive research programs.” He is echoed by (Nannestad 2008), who finds very few results about generalized trust and its correlates upon which scholars agree on. This lack of consensus may be the result of (1) differences in conceptualization and measurement, (2) endogeneity problems, and (3) omitting relevant variables.
Our proposed research aims to address the triple problem of measurement, endogeneity and model underspecification through a complex research design.

First, we will measure generalized trust using both explicit and implicit measures. Second, the research, based on both panel survey data and experimental data, seeks to triangulate the data according to social science best practices which will allow us to establish causal direction between trust and its potential determinants. Third, the research will capture detailed information both at the individual and intermediate (mezzo) levels, such as colleagues, friends, locality and region.

Moreover, we focus on two contexts of socialization that are rarely researched: higher education and prison. We selected these contexts for several main reasons: (1) they are expected to be at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the expected direction of change for trust and therefore will provide good settings for testing robustness of findings, (2) they are among the very few contexts where subjects spend large amount of time and where both the subjects themselves and their colleagues can be traced over several months, (3) they are ideal settings as mezzo contexts, forming their own set of relatively closed social relationships, and (4) the subjects are relatively young and, since youth socialization is faster and deeper at this point of human development, changes in level of trust is expected to be easier to observe.

A Longitudinal and Experimental Study