Religiosity and Trust: Evidence from the United States

Rubia R. Valente, Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Trust is one of the key driving forces behind human action and an important factor in shaping human interaction. Trust can improve economic growth, political and civic involvement, democratic stability, and subjective well-being. Yet, trust has been in decline for the last 60 years in the U.S. Purpose: This article tests the effect of several indicators of religiosity, including an index for both social and individual religiosity, on trust. Common religious doctrine instructs followers to place their trust solely in God, and can therefore be interpreted as a determinant of generalized trust. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to find out whether religious people are more likely to be distrustful of others and whether they are more likely to be misanthropic. Methods: We use the US General Social Survey (GSS, 1972–2018, n > 10 k), a large, recurring, and nationally-representative sample of U.S. adults. Using the GSS, we investigate the relationship between religiosity and trust (interpersonal and generalized) in a well-controlled model using OLS regressions. We examine both the effects of social religiosity (e.g. church attendance, membership at religious organization), and individual religiosity (e.g. belief in God, feeling of closeness to God, prayer), on trust and on misanthropy. Several additional robustness tests were conducted. Results: The findings demonstrate that while social religiosity or belonging (services attendance, church membership) predicts more trust, individual religiosity or believing (prayer, closeness and belief in God) predicts lower trust. Likewise, social religiosity lowers misanthropy, while individual religiosity promotes it. Furthermore, we show that it is important to consider individual and social religiosity simultaneously because they correlate and have opposite effects–this is an intriguing and not entirely obvious finding as most people would expect that religiosity in general, has a positive effect on trust. Conclusions and Implications: Our results indicate that religiosity is a substantial determinant of social trust and of misanthropy. The divergent results based on whether religiosity is social or individual in character is a new conceptual approach towards religiosity not previously undertaken in the literature. Ingroup favoritism and outgroup derogation theory explains our findings—connecting with God disrupts connection with humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalReview of Religious Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy


  • Faith
  • Misanthropy
  • Religion
  • Trust
  • U.S. General Social Survey (GSS)


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