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Social Trust and Civic Engagement across Time and Generations

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This article uses long-term panel data on three generations of Americans to address several issues concerning the state of social trust and civic engagement and their inter-relationships. Social trust is indicated by the standard index and civic engagement by organizational involvement and volunteerism. We demonstrate that the decline in trust and engagement has been led by Generation X, rather than the Baby Boomers, who compare quite favorably with their predecessors, the highly lauded ‘Long Civic Generation.’ Baby Boomers do, however, have a more sporadic and short-lived record of civic engagement than the preceding generation. Both social trust and, especially, civic engagement are also subject to consequential life cycle effects that may be disguised in cross-sectional designs. The interdependence between social trust and civic engagement is evident as individuals age, though trust is more a cause than a consequence of civic engagement, and the link disappears for voluntary associations based upon exclusive identities.Acta Politica (2004) 39, 342–379. doi:10.1057/palgrave.ap.5500077
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: aDepartment of Political Science 9420, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9420, USA., Email: [email protected] 2: bPolitical Science Department, 210 Barrows Hall #1950, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1950, USA., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2004-12-01

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