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Social Trust Tends to Fall as Population Rises

Social Trust Tends to Fall as Population RisesA new study suggests increases in population size may lead to a breakdown in social trust.

The research, by Jordan Smith, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University, discovered that as local populations grow, local elected officials and national news media become less trusted — compared with friends and family, local churches and civic institutions.

Smith believes this “trust deficit” has implications for long-term environmental and community planning. The study is published online in Springer’s journal Human Ecology.

Smith examined three southern Appalachian mining communities during a period of change, amid growing controversy over the expansion of amenity-based industries (such as tourism and recreation areas), as well as its impact on both the environment and local communities.

The expansion of these industries inevitably leads to rapid increases in population.

Smith was particularly interested in the levels of social trust within these communities where conflict is likely to exist between long-term residents who tend to be more concerned about “their” community, and incoming residents who are more transitory and less vested in community affairs.

All three communities moved from a natural resource-based economy to a service economy. The economic shift was demonstrated by a steady decline in natural resource-related jobs and a dramatic increase in the types of employment associated with amenity-based communities.

Smith discovered the commensurate steep rise in population changed how residents interact and communicate with one another.

By and large, residents in each of the three communities tended to trust the information they received from immediate family members, churches, close friends, and local newspapers more than information coming from other sources.

The least trusted information comes from elected officials, national television news, online news sources and co-workers.

The analyses also suggest that population density itself is not related to the structure of information networks or the level of trust or distrust within them.

Smith concludes: “As resource-dependent communities continue to grow, residents will increasingly look for familiar faces when trying to get information. This in effect reaffirms already held attitudes and beliefs. Conflicts associated with amenity transition are more likely to arise because of conflicting values and ideologies, rather than social structural changes in the community.

“The road ahead for environmental and community planners is likely to be difficult as they attempt to accommodate greater and greater numbers of amenity migrants.”

Source: Springer

People within a community photo by shutterstock.

Social Trust Tends to Fall as Population Rises

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Social Trust Tends to Fall as Population Rises. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 8 Aug 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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