The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Wedlock: the Social-Trust Booster

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Trust is essential to a healthy society, economy, and political order. Without trust, relationships break down and the social fabric weakens. Yet a study conducted in Sweden by a public-health researcher suggests not only that marriage is a trust-booster but also that the retreat from marriage in Western nations, including the United States, places that essential social ingredient at risk.

Martin Lindström of Lund University in Malmö, Sweden, analyzed 2008 data from a public-health survey of more than 28,000 residents in southern Sweden to calculate the odds ratios of low levels of trust among their fellow Swedes, ages 18 to 80. In all three of his statistical models, including those that controlled for age, country of birth, educational attainment, economic stress, and emotional support, unmarried men—as well as divorced men—were significantly less likely to express trust in other people on a four-point scale (p<0.05 for all six coefficients), than were their peers who were married or cohabiting, living arrangements that the researchers unwisely grouped together into one category. These robust results were nearly identical for unmarried and divorced women, although the statistical significance of the correlation for divorced women in the third and final model disappeared.

While the blurring of married and cohabiting Swedes into one category represent a methodological weakness of the study, these findings nonetheless do constitute a significant addition to the “social trust” literature. As Lindström explains, the existing literature has centered on how trust affects children: “The family has often been regarded as an essential source for generating both social norms and trust among children and adolescents, and the relative decline of the traditional family as well as increased divorce rates in western countries have been regarded as major causes behind the ongoing successive decline in trust observed in the new birth cohorts as they reach adulthood in the USA.”

Now, however, the Swedish study quantifies how the family is essential for generating “social norms and trust” for adults as well.

(Martin Lindström, “Marital Status and Generalized Trust in Other People: A Population-Based Study,” forthcoming in The Social Science Journal.)