Trust and Wellbeing


  • John F. Helliwell University of British Columbia
  • Shun Wang University of British Columbia


trust, wellbeing, Gallop poll, field experiment, social capital


This paper presents new evidence linking trust and subjective wellbeing, based primarily on data from the Gallup World Poll and cycle 17 of the Canadian General Social Survey (GSS17). Because several of the general explanations for subjective wellbeing examined here show large and significant linkages to both household income and various measures of trust, it is possible to estimate income-equivalent compensating differentials for different types of trust. Measures of trust studied include general social trust, trust in management, trust in co-workers, trust in neighbours, and trust in police. In addition, some Canadian surveys and the Gallup World Poll ask respondents to estimate the chances that a lost wallet would be returned to them if found by different individuals, including neighbours, police and strangers.

Our results reveal strong linkages between several trust measures and subjective well-being, as well as strong linkages between social trust and two major global causes of death—suicides and traffic fatalities. This suggests the value of learning more about how trust can be built and maintained, or repaired where it has been damaged. We therefore use data from the Canadian GSS17 to analyze personal and neighbourhood characteristics, including education, migration history, and mobility, that help explain differences in trust levels among individuals. Finally, by combining data from new dropped-wallet field experiments with survey answers about the expected return of a dropped wallet, we show that wallets are far more likely to be returned, even by strangers in large cities, than people expect.


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