Trust and all-cause mortality: a multilevel study of US General Social Survey data (1978–2010)

Giuseppe Nicola Giordano, Jan Mewes, Alexander Miething

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Background Within public health research, generalised trust has been considered an independent predictor of morbidity and mortality for over two decades. However, there are no population-based studies that have scrutinised both contextual-level and individual-level effects of generalised trust on all-cause mortality. We, therefore, aim to investigate such associations by using pooled nationally representative US General Social Survey (GSS) data linked to the National Death Register (NDI).

Methods The combined GSS–NDI data from the USA have 90 contextual units. Our sample consisted of 25 270 respondents from 1972 to 2010, with 6424 recorded deaths by 2014. We used multilevel parametric Weibull survival models reporting HRs and 95% CI (credible intervals for Bayesian analysis). Individual-level and contextual-level generalised trust were the exposures of interest; covariates included age, race, gender, marital status, education and household income.

Results We found a robust, significant impact of individual-level and contextual-level trust on mortality (HR=0.92, 95% CI 0.88 to 0.97; and HR=0.96, 95% CI 0.93 to 0.98, respectively). There were no discernible gender differences. Neither did we observe any significant cross-level interactions.

Conclusion High levels of individual and contextual generalised trust protect against mortality, even after considering numerous individual and aggregated socioeconomic conditions. Its robustness at both levels hints at the importance of psychosocial mechanisms, as well as a trustworthy environment. Declining trust levels across the USA should be of concern; decision makers should consider direct and indirect effects of policy on trust with the view to halting this decline.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-55
JournalJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health
Issue number1
Early online date2018 Oct 15
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
  • Sociology


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