Law-breaking, fairness, and generalized trust: The mediating role of trust in institutions


Institution-centered accounts of generalized trust rely on the idea that law-breaking and state’s unfairness lower individuals’ propensity to trust fellow citizens because of a weaker confidence in the state. Despite the theoretical relevance attributed to this mediation mechanism, no empirical analysis in the literature has focused on examining its correlational validity. Using data from the European Social Survey (2010), the Quality of Government EU Regional data, and EUROSTAT, this paper assesses the intervening role of institutional trust on the relationship between crime rates, state’s fairness, and generalized trust. Results from a Multilevel SEM (MSEM) mediation analysis indicate that trust in institutions strongly mediates the relationship between violent crimes (i.e. homicide) and generalized trust but not the one between property crimes (i.e. vehicle thefts and robberies) and generalized trust. On the other hand, indicators of fairness (i.e. impartiality and corruption) are all mediated by institutional trust, though impartiality maintains a significant direct effect. Overall, findings support the institutional approach, confirming that the negative relationship between ineffective and unfair institutions and generalized trust passes mostly through people’s lost faith in the state.

Sergio Lo Iacono
Sergio Lo Iacono
Assistant Professor