Researchers from Stockholm University and Lund University examined data from a nationally representative survey, the US General Social Survey, taken by more than 25,000 Americans between 1978 and 2010. The survey measured the participants' trust levels by asking them to answer questions like, "Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you cannot be too careful in dealing with other people?"
The researchers then evaluated which participants were still living by the end of the study period in 2014 by linking the data to the national mortality database. They found that people who were more trusting enjoyed longer lives.
"Whether or not you trust other people, including strangers, makes a difference of about 10 months in terms of life expectancy," said study co-author Alexander Miething, a researcher at Stockholm University, in a statement to EurekAlert last week.
The study, which was published on October 15, 2018, in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, also showed that the majority of Americans (62 percent) were distrustful of others. In addition, the overall trust level among Americans has declined over the years from 43 percent of people trusting others in the 1980s to just 34 percent in the 2000s.
According to Miething, living in communities where more residents have suspicious attitudes could affect other member's lifespans.
"In those contexts, your risk of dying is higher than in places with more community trust," he noted.
However, the results did not change depending on gender, socioeconomic status or education level.
"If higher trust levels are a potential resource to increase individuals' resilience towards health hazards arising from social disadvantage, then the decline in trust seen across the US over past decades is of concern," the authors concluded. "Decision makers, therefore, should consider any impact that policies may also have on trust, with the view to halting or even reversing this decline."