When Trust Matters Most: Subjective Well-Being, Trust in Institutions and Income Inequality

Lara P. Tavares , CAPP/ISCSP, University of Lisbon
Catarina Rivero, ISCSP, University of Lisbon
Christin-Melanie Vauclair, Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), CIS-IUL

Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders, and good mental health is related to psychological well-being (WHO 2019). As Diener (1994) points out, depression and anxiety are just part of people’s well-being. Therefore, from a policy perspective, it is crucial to gain insights into predictors of well-being (Layard 2010). In this paper we use an index often used to measure subjective well-being (SWB) and look at its relationship with institutional trust. This paper offers new insights into that relationship by acknowledging that institutional trust reflects not only the individuals’ rational evaluation about how institutions are functioning but also individuals’ beliefs. More importantly, we look at how the link between institutional trust and SWB is affected by income inequality. To better capture individuals’ beliefs about the society they live in, we use a measure of general trust in national institutions. In light of the theory of the Belief in a Just World we hypothesize that institutional trust assumes a protective role in a context of income inequality. The results from multilevel regression analyses on data from the European Social Survey (Round 7) show that the relationship between general trust in national institutions and SWB is stronger for countries with higher income inequality compared to those with lower inequality. In other words, people in unequal societies gain an additional well-being benefit by trusting their national institutions. This raises challenging questions about the legitimization of the status quo and hints at the importance of psychological factors in sociopolitical change.

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 Presented in Session P2. Poster Session Ageing, Health and Mortality