Developmental Patterns of Social Trust Between Early and Late Adolescence: Age and School Climate Effects


Social trust (i.e., belief that people are generally fair and trustworthy) is important to the functioning of democracies, and trend studies show it has declined. We test hypotheses concerning the development of these beliefs in adolescence. Based on surveys of 1,535 adolescents collected over 2 years, we find that middle and late adolescents had significantly lower levels of trust than early adolescents and that these beliefs became more stable and less related to interpersonal trust between early and late adolescence. Results of multiple group structural equation models revealed that, regardless of age, adolescents' reports that a strong sense of student solidarity characterized their school significantly increased social trust at T2, controlling for levels at T1, and opportunities to exchange perspectives with fellow students increased social trust at T2 indirectly, through feelings of student solidarity. The study points to the role of schools in nurturing the democratic dispositions of younger generations.


Sociology and Anthropology

Document Type




Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Research on Adolescence