It’s been almost 20 years since David Bowie told us of he was afraid of Americans. Americans have used that time to grow increasingly afraid of their government, each other, and the rest of the world. By virtually every measure Americans have become less trusting, a situation which threatens to destabilize a wide variety of public and private institutions.
Here are a few institutions that Americans have lost trust in:
Within the United States, levels of trust can vary substantially for different social groups, but the overall trend is down for most institutions. Why does this matter? High levels of trust are correlated with many positive social outcomes including greater civic engagement, lower crime rates, and economic growth.
The most popular explanation for the decline is that trust falls as economic inequality rises (pdf), which it certainly has in the US. Of course, a more nuanced explanation would include all the ways in which public institutions are actually failing the public.
Whatever the explanation, clearly the answer is to listen to more Bowie.
The image at the top of this post was shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr. It has been cropped.