Danish Exceptionalism: Explaining the Unique Increase in Social Trust over the Past 30 Years

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Given the positive societal consequences of social trust and the exceptional high levels of trust found in the Nordic countries, there is a growing interest in the background for Nordic trust exceptionalism. Reflecting the debate about the roots of trust, the question is whether this exceptionalism has been a permanent feature of these societies, i.e., an enduring cultural trait, or primarily been shaped by more contemporary experiential forces. This article examines the roots of the present Nordic trust exceptionalism by means of analysing the development of trust in Denmark over the past three decades. The analysis shows that trust in Denmark has increased remarkably from 1979 to 2009, thus documenting that the high levels of trust found today are a relatively new phenomenon. This contradicts the cultural perspective and instead vindicates the experiential perspective on trust. Subsequent analyses based on longitudinal data at the aggregate level as well as individual-level cross-sectional and panel data indicate that the increase in trust in Denmark can be attributed to generational replacement, increasing levels of education, improved quality of state institutions, and a concomitant increase in citizens’ trust in these institutions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Sociological Review
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)782-795
Publication statusPublished - 2014

ID: 120335956