Millennials set the record for low trust in other people

Whether you trust other people (in general) affects whether you collaborate voluntarily. Trust has been linked to prosperity, happiness, and health. It has been falling for young Americans–not in a smoothly downward path, but notably. And 2008 set the record, in a bad way, with just 21.4 percent of young Americans saying that other people can generally be trusted.

I am generally supportive of the kind of analysis that’s summarized in today’s New York Times: “surveys show that the majority of the nation’s millennials remain confident … that they will have satisfactory careers. They have a lot going for them. ‘They are better educated than previous generations and they were raised by baby boomers who lavished a lot of attention on their children,’ said Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Center’s director. That helps to explain their persistent optimism, even as they struggle to succeed.”

But it’s a mixed picture. Optimism about careers is one thing; confidence in other people is a different story. Perhaps protective Baby Boomers failed to raise kids who trusted the outside world, or perhaps it’s a simplification to say that today’s generation was raised by protective parents. The young man in today’s Times profile was raised by a married couple in exurban Grafton, MA, with a family income in the national top ten percent. But 258 students enrolled in the Chicago Public School system were shot last year–quite a different context in which to grow up. And most young Americans fall somewhere in between: neither coddled nor terrorized, but hardly secure.