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Aussies Wary about Trust

Rev Dr Philip Hughes is the Senior Researcher at the Christian Research Association

Forget about the rule to ‘Love one’s neighbour!’ The truth is, we don’t trust them.

According to a report from NCLS Research and Edith Cowan University, only a third of Australians have high levels of trust in the residents of their neighbourhood, researchers found.

“Much the same was true for levels of trust toward people of races different from one’s own, toward people having a religion different from one’s own, and toward most Australians,” says author Dr Philip Hughes.

And it wasn’t any more widespread in the workplace. “A little less than half had high levels of trust in the people with whom they worked or studied,” Dr Hughes added.

 Researchers had sampled a random group of 1514 Australians as part of their 2002-03 Well-Being and Security Survey , funded by Anglicare and NCLS Research, in conjunction with Edith Cowan and Deakin universities.

They found that when it came to family members, the picture was much rosier.  “Nearly 90 per cent of people had high levels of trust toward members of their immediate family,” Dr Hughes reports.

Who can be trusted?

As for what determines a high level of trust, the report points to how much we find common ground in another.

“Most people are simply more or less trusting of others, and will trust those with whom they feel they have most in common,” Dr Hughes concludes. “Nevertheless, particular circumstances, where one works and where one lives, can certainly have an impact on one’s level of trust in relation to those specific contexts.”

Pointing the finger at who’s to blame for a lack of trust in the local street may not actually be your fault.

“Trust is related to trustworthiness,” Dr Hughes points out. “In relation to people one knows or has experienced, trust is the evaluation that those people will act in a trustworthy way. Distrust may arise from experiences in which others have proved not to be trustworthy.”

On the question of age factors, the report finds that older generations tend to show higher levels of trust, especially in their neighbours, than their younger peers.

 “One wonders whether this difference is the result of historical changes reflecting the stronger sense of community among those who grew up before, during or immediately after World War II,” Dr Hughes writes. “It may also reflect the fact that older people tend to spend more time in their local neighbourhoods.”

Healthy, Wealthy, Trusting

Education, wealth and wellbeing also figured, the report finds, with levels of trust ranking higher among those with high levels of formal education, health and home ownership.

“The lowest levels were found among those in public housing, and second lowest among those renting privately,” Dr Hughes says. “There was a tendency for higher levels of trust to be found among those with higher incomes (although) there are groups of people, such as retirees, who have low incomes but high levels of trust.”

“Trust did vary with the status of occupation. The highest levels of trust were found among those professionals working with people, and lowest among manual workers and farmers.”

Those who were unmarried or in de facto relationships tended to have lower levels of trust. “It was highest among those who had re-married after the death of a spouse,” Dr Hughes reveals, noting such results may indicate age rather than marital status.

The Wellbeing and Security Study undertaken by Anglicare (Sydney), NCLS Research, Edith Cowan University and Deakin University was designed to examine the nature and levels of security and insecurity in Australian society and their relationship to wellbeing.  A survey was sent to a random selection of the Australian adult population drawn from electoral rolls in October 2002.  About 35 per cent of those who received the survey completed it and returned it, providing a sample of 1514 people.

Photo : Rev Dr Philip Hughes is the Senior Researcher at the Christian Research Association