Sociology Mind
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 272-281
Published Online July 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Determinants of Individual Trust in Global Institutions: The Role
of Social Capital and Transnational Identity
Harris H. Kim
Department of Sociology, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, South Korea
Received March 21st, 2012; revised April 25th, 2012; accepted May 28th, 2012
The focus of this paper is to examine the determinants of individual-level trust in global institutional ac-
tors, namely the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and multinational corporations (MNCs).
This study is guided by two lines of inquiry. First, consistent with the social capital theory, it investigates
the role of social or generalized trust in creating institutional trust. Second, in keeping with the extant lit-
erature on economic and cultural globalization, it also probes into how and to what extent transnational
identity shapes people’s perception and evaluation of international organizations. Based on the Asian Ba-
rometer Survey (2003), a cross-national dataset covering 10 Asian countries (N = 8086), this study finds
that both factors significantly shape the level of institutional trust, while controlling for a host of relevant
variables. More specifically, logistic regression analyses reveal that the tendency to trust generalized oth-
ers has a positive association with the degree of trust placed in institutional actors. Transnational identity,
on the contrary, has the reverse effect. The implications of the empirical findings and the suggestions for
future research are discussed.
Keywords: Generalized Trust; Social Capital; Institutional Trust; Transnational Identity; Globalization
Social Capital and Institutional Trust
Where does institutional trust come from? That is, what are
some of the key factors that influence individuals to place their
trust in institutional actors (e.g., courts, governments, busi-
nesses, international regulatory bodies)? This question has been
addressed by many concerned academics. In particular, political
scientists have had much to say about it. Perhaps the most
well-known theoretical statement on this issue comes from
Robert Putnam (1993, 2000) and his work on the positive role
of social capital (i.e., generalized trust) on the workings of de-
mocratic institutions. In his oft-quoted study on the civic tradi-
tions in Italy, Putnam (1993) observes that:
“In all societies, to summarize our argument so far, dilemmas
of collective action hamper attempts to cooperate for mutual
benefit, whether in politics or in economics. Third-party en-
forcement is an inadequate solution to this problem. Voluntary
cooperation (like rotating credit associations) depends on social
capital. Norms of generalized reciprocity [for favors received]
and networks of civic engagement encourage social trust and
cooperation because they reduce incentives to defect, reduce
uncertainty, and provide models for future cooperation. Trust
itself is an emergent property of the social system, as much as a
personal attribute. Individuals are able to be trusting (and not
merely gullible) because of the social norms and networks
within which their actions are embedded” (177).
In short, social capital of a community is crucial since it al-
lows the members to encourage voluntary cooperation, mini-
mize free riding, and facilitate collective action. More impor-
tantly, according to Putnam, this aspect of communal life is a
necessary prerequisite for political institutions to function
properly. Trust, norms of reciprocity, and networks of civic
engagement are in fact valuable ingredients that lubricate the
democratic machinery, as the argument goes.
Why and how does healthy associational life lead to benefi-
cial political outcomes? In light of Putnam’s seminal work,
much research has been conducted particularly to test the causal
relationship between the individual-level social capital and the
amount of trust people have in their political leaders and insti-
tutions (see, e.g., Brehm & Rahn, 1997; Keele, 2007; Paxton,
2002; Rothstein & Uslaner, 2005; Zmerli & Newton, 2008).
The gist of the argument is that trusting behavior in the social
arena translates into (or “spills over”) the political realm in
terms of individual political engagement. According to social
capital theory, generalized trust is recognized as one of the
most critical forms of resource that can “act as the foundation
for stable and effective democratic government” (Zmerli &
Newton, 2008: p. 706). Citizens who are withdrawn from civic
engagement tend to experience a sense of estrangement, pow-
erlessness, and distrust. In short, those who pull away from
associational life suffer from the deficiency of social capital,
which they project onto government institutions (Keele, 2007).
As Rothenstein and Uslaner (2005: p. 41) put it, “people who
believe that in general most other people in their society can be
trusted are also more inclined to have a positive view of their
democratic institutions, to participate more in politics, and to be
more active in civic organizations”.
A substantial literature exists highlighting how generalized
social trust provides a solid basis for stable and effective de-
mocratic government by increasing people’s level of confi-
dence in political institutions. Using a large cross-national
dataset, for example, Paxton (2002) shows that voluntary asso-
ciation memberships and generalized trust are positively related
to democratization at the aggregate level. Zmerli and Newton
(2008) extend their earlier research by examining the relation-
ship between generalized social trust, political trust, and satis-
faction with democracy. Their analysis based on European
Social Survey and the US CID reveals solid evidence illustrat-
ing the link between social trust and political confidence and
political support across 23 European countries and the US. In
one of the earlier and oft-quoted studies, using the General
Social Survey, Brehm and Rahn (1997) also demonstrate the
causal impact of interpersonal trust and civic engagement on
people’s confidence in democratic institutions. Similar findings
are reported by Denters, Gabriel, and Torcal (2007) in their
examination of political confidence in the context of European
democracies. More theoretically informed writings also suggest
that there is a close association between generalized trust and
political or institutional trust (see e.g., Braithwaite & Levi,
1998; Dekker & Uslaner, 2001; Gambetta, 1988; Inglehart,
1997; Nooteboom, 2007; Seligman, 1997; Sztompka, 2000;
Uslaner, 2002).
Despite the voluminous literature on this topic, however,
there is still an ongoing controversy concerning the exact link-
age between social/generalized trust and political/institutional
trust (see, e.g., Delhey & Newton, 2003; Mishler & Rose, 2005;
Newton & Norris, 2000; Rothstein, 2002). Zmerli and Newton
(2008) correctly point out that indeed this has been an intellec-
tually contested area, where some researchers find empirical
support for the causal connection while others fail to do so.
According to another author, “there are patchy and weak asso-
ciations between social and political trust” (Newton, 2001: p.
202). Based on the results from estimating a structural equation
model using the New Russia Barometer survey data, Mishler
and Rose (2005) similarly conclude that “trust has small if any
independent effect on support for the current regime” (14). In a
more recent article, Jamal and Nooruddin (2010) contend that
the “democratic utility of trust” is not uniform across the globe
but that it interacts with the degree of democracy within each
country. More specifically, individual-level generalized trust is
found to be linked with political support but only for those
living in democratic countries. These and other studies under-
score an important fact in the existing scholarship: the causality
surrounding social capital (primarily conceptualized in terms of
generalized trust) and institutional trust remains moot.
The purpose of the present study is two-fold. First, it seeks to
shed empirical light on the debate by examining a large
cross-national dataset. Even a cursory review of the literature
shows that the vast majority of the previous work focuses on
domestic political institutions such as the local government, the
police, and the legal system (e.g., Edlund, 2006; Johnson, 2005;
Kim, 2005; Letki, 2006; Rahn & Rudolph, 2005). In light of
this trend, this study shifts the analytical angle by focusing on a
set of global institutions, namely the World Bank, the World
Trade Organization (WTO), and multinational corporations
(MNCs). The main research question is thus directed at the
extent to which varying degrees of generalized trust relate to
people’s respective evaluation of organizations that operate
beyond national borders, a topic that has not received much
attention in the past.
In addition to the empirical contribution, this study also in-
corporates a new causal factor in explaining individual percep-
tion and evaluation of the afore-mentioned international or-
ganizations, namely transnational identity. Previous research
mostly focus on “contextual and individual-level sources of
local political trust” (Rahn & Rudolph, 2005: p. 530). The for-
mer category includes variables like national income inequality,
racial composition, urban/rural divide, town size, etc. The latter
contains individual-level attributes and attitudes such as age,
race, education, gender, political beliefs, and social values. In
this study, some of these factors are also included in the quan-
titative analysis but only as control variables in order to test
whether transnational identity influences the degree to which
individual actors view international organizations.
With increasing globalization, the subjective notion of self-
identity is becoming uprooted and transplanted across local
boundaries. The gradual erosion of national identities and the
rise of “cosmopolitan citizenship” have been observed as the
hallmarks of economic globalization (Berger & Huntington,
2002; Huntington, 1996; Norris, 2000). According to Hunting-
ton’s (1993) original thesis concerning the “clash of civiliza-
tions”, the great divisions and international conflicts in the
post-Cold War era are cultural, not ideological. Cultural con-
flicts will take place among nine major civilizations, as he pre-
dicts, according to which new regional identities will form that
transcend national territories and state boundaries. These new
forms of identity and concomitant value shifts, as well as cul-
tural conflicts, in the face of modernization and globalization
have been the focus of much research (Appadurai, 2000;
Applbaum, 2000; Hsiao, 2002; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005;
Leiber & Weisberg, 2002; Rosendorf, 2000; Srivinas, 2002;
Sum, 2000).
Based on the analysis of the World Values Surveys, Norris
(2000) specifically points out that what he calls “global iden-
tity” has increased over the last several decades. As he shows,
cosmopolitan attitudes such as those in favor of free trade and
international organizations (such as the United Nations), for
example, have also risen. In their comprehensive cross-national
study based on the European Values Study Eurobarometer sur-
veys, Arts and Halman (2006) complement this view by show-
ing that national identification has declined over the years
throughout most European countries and that there has been a
growing sense of attachment to transnational identity. In a re-
lated study, Knovich (2009) shows how the content of identity
has important implications for people’s domestic and foreign
policy preferences. The key point is that identity—whether
locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally based—has
grave consequences on how people view social, economic, and
political issues, which are becoming increasingly more subject
to the forces of globalization. Given that the World Bank, the
WTO, and MNCs are three major institutional actors that sym-
bolize and embody (economic) globalization, it is relevant to
inquire about how the emergence of transnational identity, itself
a product of (cultural) globalization, contributes to the dynam-
ics of institutional trust conceptualized at the individual level.
In sum, the empirical analysis in this paper is informed by
two related inquiries. First, what is the causal impact, if any, of
trusting generalized others on people’s subjective evaluation of
global institutional actors, while controlling for other relevant
factors? The literature has shown that the link between general-
ized trust and political trust is, for the most part, positive. Does
a similar causal relationship hold between trusting generalized
others and having confidence in global institutions? Second,
ceteris paribus, how does the acquisition of a transnational
identity (a sense of belonging to or affiliation with a geographic
region larger than one’s own country of birth or nationality)
affect the level of institutional trust held by individuals? Are
people with a transnational affiliation more or less likely to
view the agents of economic globalization as being trustworthy?
The remainder of this paper is devoted to answering these ques-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 273
tions by analyzing a dataset that provides a wealth of compara-
tive information on some of the major Asian countries. The
next section describes the data and the methods of variable
measurement and analysis. It will be followed by the interpreta-
tion of the findings and the discussion concerning their impli-
cations. The concluding section offers some broad implications
concerning the research on social capital and institutional trust
as well as possible directions for future research.
Data and Measurement
The data analyzed for this study is the first wave of the Asian
Barometer Survey (2003), which contains probability samples
from ten countries including Japan, South Korea, China, Ma-
laysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, and Uz-
bekistan. The Asian Barometer Survey is headquartered in
Taipei and co-hosted by the Institute of Political Science, Aca-
demia Sinica and The Institute for the Advanced Studies of
Humanities and Social Sciences, National Taiwan University.
The survey collects general information on people’s political
attitudes and beliefs as well as social values in the context of
globalization. The data were gathered through face-to-face
interviews with randomly selected samples of respondents rep-
resenting the adult population in each country. Roughly 8000
subjects were interviewed in each country, resulting in the total
sample size of 8086. The dataset was released to the author by
the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan Univer-
sity with permission to use it for academic purposes.
Dependent Variable
There are three dependent variables to measure institutional
questionnaire, the respondents were asked about their subjec-
tive assessment of various political, economic, for-profit, and
non-governmental institutions, including both domestic foreign.
The exact wording is: “Please indicate to what extent you trust
the following institutions to operate in the best interests of so-
ciety. If you dont know what to reply or have no particular
opinion, please say so. The answer choices include: “Trust a
lot” (=“4”), Trust to a degree” (=“3”), “Don’t really trust”
(=“2”), and “Don’t trust at all” (=“1”). Based on the answers
provided, a four-point scale was created for each of the three
dependent variables. Some answered “Don’t Know,” which
were taken care of as missing cases and hence omitted from the
analysis; 18.6% gave this answer when evaluating the World
Bank, 19.4% for the WTO, and 12.8% for MNCs.
Independent Variab le s
To address the main questions stated above that guide the
empirical inquiry, two separate independent variables are cre-
ated, one for generalized trust and another for transnational
identity. The question for the generalized trust variable
(GEN_TRUST) used in the analysis as stated in the Asian Ba-
rometer Survey is as follows:
Do you think that people generally try to be helpful or do
you think that they mostly look out for themselves?”
1) People generally try to be helpful
2) People mostly look out for themselves
3) Dont know
This question is similar to the standard measures found in the
World Values Survey (WVS) and the European Values Survey
(EVS), as analyzed by Inglehart and Welzel (2005) and many
others, after which the ABS is designed (see e.g., Zmerli and
Newton (2008: p. 709) for a discussion on the use of this par-
ticular and other related variables). Based on the answers given,
a dichotomous variable is created, where it is coded “1” if the
respondent picked the first answer choice (“People generally try
to be helpful”) and “0” otherwise. The “Don’t know” option is
treated as a case of missing values.
The transnational identity variable (TRANS_ID) is con-
structed from the information gathered from the following
question in the survey:
Throughout the world, some people also see themselves as
belonging to a transnational group (such as Asian, people of
Chinese ethnicity, people who speak the same language or
practice the same religion). Do you identify with any transna-
tional group?
1) Asian
2) Other transnational identity (please specify)
3) No, I dont identify particularly with any transnational
A binary coding scheme is used to assign a value of “1” to
the first option (“Asian”) and “0” otherwise. Since the countries
in the dataset belong to a broad regional category called Asia,
only those respondents who identify themselves as being
“Asian” were given the value of “1”. The reference category
consists of the rest who chose either 2 or 3 as the answer to the
question. 59.7% of the sample considered themselves as be-
longing to a transnational category called “Asian”.
Control Variables
A number of additional variables are used in the analysis as
controls, which are causally related to the outcome variables
that measure institutional trust. They include individual-level
socioeconomic and demographic factors such as each respon-
dent’s age (AGE), religion, gender (MALE = “1”), marital
status (MARRIED = “1”), educational level, ability to speak
English, ethnic pride, and living standards (i.e., subjective as-
sessment of one’s socioeconomic status). Descriptive statistics
reveal that the average age of the entire sample is 37. 49.2 per-
cent of the survey participants were men, and 69.4 percent in
the dataset are married. As for the educational levels, 1.5 per-
cent of the sample have no formal schooling. About a third
(33.6%) of them are high school graduates, and 19.3 percent
have a college degree. The education variable (EDUC) was
created using a 6-point scale (1 = “no schooling”; 2 = “middle
school”; 3 = “high school”; 4 = “vocational-technical school”; 5
= “professional school”; 6 = “university and graduate school”).
The variable for living standards (SES) is measured using a
5-point scale (e.g., 1 = “Low,” 3 = “Average,” 5 = “High”).
About 3 percent of the sample identify themselves as being
members of the “low” class, compared with 68.7 percent who
see themselves as belonging to the “middle” (average) class
while 12 percent claim to be part of the “high” class. When it
comes to the religious background, Christians make up 8.8
percent of the sample (3.3% Catholics and 5.5% Protestants).
Muslims make up 15.7 percent of the sample, Hindus consist of
10.7 percent, and the largest group is the Buddhist with 36.9
percent. These groups add up to about 72 percent of the entire
dataset. The remaining group includes “other” minor religions
(e.g., Confucianism, Taoism, Sikh, Jewish) as well as atheists.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
In the analysis, three dummy variables are included, namely
baseline group includes the rest. In addition to the religious
category, another variable (RELIGIOSITY) is also measured to
account for their religious participation (“Apart from weddings,
funerals and such ceremonies, about how often do you attend
religious services or visit a place of worship these days?”). This
variable is constructed using a 7-point scale ranging from
“never” (=1) to “twice a week” (=7).
The variables discussed up to now are standard measures
based on the respondents’ socio-demographic information.
Three additional variables are taken into account that gauge
different levels of ethnic pride (ETH_PRIDE) foreign language
skills (ENGLISH) and international exposure (INT_EXP). In an
increasingly globalizing world, international regulatory bodies
and multinational businesses can powerfully shape the life
chances of individuals and even the fate of nations. In fact, the
process of economic globalization driven by such institutions as
the WB, the WTO and the MNCs are known to have grave
domestic consequences such as compromising state sovereignty,
exacerbating inequality, and uprooting traditional ways of life
(see e.g., Lechner & Boli, 2000; Nye & Donahue, 2000; Sassen,
1998; Smith, Solinger, & Topik, 1999). Hence, it is reasonable
to expect that whether or not people hold a favorable view of
(or “trusts”) global economic institutional actors is shaped by
their attitude toward their own ethnicity or nationality. In the
dataset, a significant proportion of those surveyed (61.5%) are
“very proud” of their ethnicity, while 25.9 percent are “some-
what” proud of their ethnicity. The coding scheme for this
variable is as follows: 4 = “Very proud”, 3 = “Somewhat
proud”, 2 = “Not really proud”, 1 = “Not proud at all”.
How “globalized” a person is can also have an impact on
how that individual perceives and evaluates global institutions.
To account for this, the individual respondent’s ability to speak
English and how often one has travelled abroad are controlled
for. The language variable (ENGLISH) is coded as follows: 1 =
“not at all”, 2 = “very little”, 3 = “I can speak English well
enough to get by in daily life”, 4 = “I can speak English very
fluently”. The English ability is an important proxy for indi-
vidual-level globalization. To the extent that a person speaks
English well, s/he can be seen as being more cosmopolitan or
open-minded. And having a cosmopolitan outlook is highly
related to how the person feels about global issues and interna-
tional organizations (Norris, 2000). Hence, it is important to
include this measure in the analysis in testing the causal effects
of generalized trust on the outcome variables. In the dataset, 5.9
percent claim to speak English “very fluently,” whereas a sig-
nificantly higher proportion (37.8%) does not speak it “at all.”
The variable GLOB_EXP is constructed based on the following
statement: “I have traveled abroad at least three times in the
past three years, on holiday or for business purposes”. It is a
dichotomous variable (“Yes” = 1). About 7% of the sample
gave an affirmative answer to the statement.
In addition, two attitudinal variables are measured. In the
survey, the subjects were asked to identify items from a list of
social and economic issues they consider to be worrisome. The
exact wording is: “Which, if any, of the following issues cause
you great worry?” Among the list are two topics that are rele-
vant to this analysis, namely “economic problems in your
country” and “globalization”. Based on the answers given
(“Worry” = 1; “Not mentioned” = 0), the two dichotomous
variables ECON_WORRY and GLOB_WORRY are created. In
the survey, because of the politically sensitive nature of the
question, the subjects living in Myanmar were not asked about
certain issues they worry about, including the domestic eco-
nomic situation and globalization. Hence, the quantitative find-
ings reported below are based on a subset of the original data
that excludes those respondents who were originally surveyed
in this specific country. Lastly, two country-level variables are
taken into consideration to control for macro-level effects. One
is the (natural log of) GDP per capita for each of the nations in
the sample. The other is the dummy variable named EAST_
ASIA. Respondents who live in Japan, Korea, and China are
given the value of “1” while the rest are assigned “0”.
The descriptive statistics for all the variables mentioned are
shown in Table 1. Table 2 contains the bivariate correlation
matrix. Since the dependent variables are all categorically dis-
tributed, nominal logistic regression models are estimated. Ta-
bles 3-5 consist of the findings from the analyses, each table
corresponding to one of the three dependent variables regressed
on the independent and control variables. The following section
describes the regression results and their interpretations.
Statistical Findings
Table 3 contains the regression coefficients from estimating
Table 1.
Descriptive statistics.
Min Max Mean Std. Dev.
TRUST_WB 1.00 4.00 2.8403 .8151
TRUST_WTO 1.00 4.00 2.7690 .7794
TRUST_MNC 1.00 4.00 2.5212 .7968
GEN_TRUST 0 1.00 .3530 .4779
TRANS_ID 0 1.00 .5973 .4904
AGE 20.00 59.00 36.8682 10.8922
MALE 0 1.00 .4920 .4999
MARRIED 0 1.00 .6942 .4607
EDUC 1.00 6.00 3.7020 1.5076
SES 1.00 5.00 2.9927 .7154
CATHOLIC 0 1.00 .0328 .1780
PROTESTANT 0 1.00 .0553 .2285
MUSLIM 0 1.00 .1566 .3634
RELIGIOSITY 1.00 7.00 4.2830 1.9245
ETHN_PRIDE 1.00 4.00 3.4755 .7719
ENGLISH 1.00 4.00 1.9092 .9127
INT_EXP 0 1.00 .0696 .2545
GLOB_WORRY 0 1.00 .0568 .2314
ECON_WORRY 0 1.00 .3100 .4630
GDP_PER 5.28 10.41 7.371 1.569
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 275
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 2.
Correlation matrix.
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)
1. TRUST_WB 1 .726** .372** .071** .037** .045** .058** .042** .006 .055**
2. TRUST_WTO .726** 1 .373** .077** .034** .046** .049** .049** .010 .037**
3. TRUST_MNC .372** .373** 1 .085** .027* .059** .048** .039** .018 .028*
4. AGE .071** .077** .085** 1 .003 .441** .165** .096** .001 .001
5. MALE .037** .034** .027* .003 1 .056** .070** .030** .009 .031**
6. MARRIED .045** .046** .059** .441** .056** 1 .145** .011 .021 .034**
7. EDUC .058** .049** .048** .165** .070** .145** 1 .124** .001 .070**
8. SES .042** .049** .039** .096** .030** .011 .124** 1 .048** .060**
9. CATHOLIC .006 .010 .018 .001 .009 .021 .001 .048** 1 .045**
10. PROTESTANT .055** .037** .028* .001 .031** .034** .070** .060** .045** 1
11. MUSLIM .011 .002 .146** .044** .000 .016 .010 .003 .079** .104**
12. RELIGIOSITY .026* .003 .003 .011 .011 .018 .049** .136** .182** .147**
13. ETHN_PRIDE .108** .103** .082** .023* .012 .019 .093** .178** .004 .176**
14. ENGLISH .002 .009 .014 .174** .076** .144** .421** .214** .070** .009
15. INT_EXP .015 .001 .003 .025* .035** .012 .125** .069** .021 .078**
16. GLOB_WORRY .031* .012 .038** .040** .043** .031** .015 .023* .018 .022*
17. ECON_WORRY .008 .004 .033** .001 .021 .002 .003 .069** .012 .013
18. GDP_PER .269** .209** .218** .136** .015 .038** .067** .121** .024* .008
19. GEN_TRUST .068** .073** .068** .045** .021 .055** .084** .045** .008 .002
20. TRANS_ID .049** .031* .077** .052** .001 .033** .028* .029* .070** .034**
(11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19)
1. TRUST_WB .026* .108** .002 .015 .031* .008 .269** .068** .049**
2. TRUST_WTO .003 .103** .009 .001 .012 .004 .209** .073** .031*
3. TRUST_MNC .003 .082** .014 .003 .038** .033** .218** .068** .077**
4. AGE .011 .023* .174** .025* .040** .001 .136** .045** .052**
5. MALE .011 .012 .076** .035** .043** .021 .015 .021 .001
6. MARRIED .018 .019 .144** .012 .031** .002 .038** .055** .033**
7. EDUC .049** .093** .421** .125** .015 .003 .067** .084** .028*
8. SES .136** .178** .214** .069** .023* .069** .121** .045** .029*
9. CATHOLIC .182** .004 .070** .021 .018 .012 .024* .008 .070**
10. PROTESTANT .147** .176** .009 .078** .022* .013 .008 .002 .034**
11. MUSLIM .143** .085** .050** .033** .086** .091** .169** .003 .105**
12. RELIGIOSITY 1 .222** .120** .009 .035** .005 .181** .065** .176**
13. ETHN_PRIDE .222** 1 .069** .075** .052** .009 .319** .070** .117**
14. ENGLISH .120** .069** 1 .112** .058** .005 .071** .027* .043**
15. INT_EXP .009 .075** .112** 1 .002 .001 .064** .001 .026*
16. GLOB_WORRY .035** .052** .058** .002 1 .189** .059** .018 .015
17. ECON_WORRY .005 .009 .005 .001 .189** 1 .063** .018 .018
18. GDP_PER .181** .319** .071** .064** .059** .063** 1 .015 .046**
19. GEN_TRUST .065** .070** .027* .001 .018 .018 .015 1 .042**
20. TRANS_ID .176** .117** .043** .026* .015 .018 .046** .042** 1
Table 3.
Logistic coefficients from regressing TRUST_WB on selected independent and control variables.
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4
Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E.
AGE .004 .003 .004 .003 .005 .003 .005 .003
MALE .120* .047 .116* .048 .114* .048 .111* .049
MARRIED .141* .058 .157** .058 .145* .059 .161** .059
EDUC .056** .018 .051** .018 .060** .018 .055** .018
SES .056 .035 .051 .035 .049 .036 .043 .036
CATHOLIC .130 .130 .146 .131 .193 .131 .211 .132
PROTESTANT .167 .108 .181 .109 .152 .109 .165 .110
MUSLIM .110 .069 .124 .069 .090 .069 .103 .070
RELIGIOSITY .074*** .015 .071*** .015 .072*** .015 .068*** .015
ETHNIC_PRIDE .105** .035 .092** .035 .114** .036 .102** .036
ENGLISH .001 .030 .002 .030 .007 .030 .010 .030
INT_EXP .085 .093 .075 .094 .138 .095 .127 .096
GLOB_WORRY .215* .101 .205* .101 .204* .101 .196 .102
ECON_WORRY .001 .022 .005 .022 .006 .022 .010 .022
GDP_PER .295*** .018 .294*** .022 .297*** .299*** .010 .023
EAST_ASIA .084 .078 .127 .080 .184* .082 .227** .084
GEN_TRUST .236 .051*** .238*** .052
TRANS_ID .282*** .052 .285*** .052
INTERCEPT1 2.180*** 2.222*** 2.421*** 2.471***
INTERCEPT2 .118 .163 .420 .472*
INTERCEPT3 2.556*** 2.527*** 2.273*** 2.237***
2 LL 15758.57 15528.29 15147.47 14955.789
N 6984 6906 6693 6616
Note: *<.05; **<.01; ***<.001.
the effects of the independent and control variables on the re-
spondents’ trust in the World Bank. Model 1 is the baseline
model containing only the controls. Several of them reach the
level of significance. Among the individual-level attributes,
those who are male, married and have higher levels of educa-
tion are less likely to believe that the WB “operates in the best
interest of society”. On the other hand, people who are religious
and have a strong sense of ethnic pride are more likely to trust
the WB to operate in ways that benefit society. The respondents
who are “worried about globalization” tend to place greater
trust in the WB, as well and those who live in a country with a
higher per capita GDP feel the same way in terms of trusting
this global financial institution. Moving onto Model 2, which
incorporates one of the independent variables (GEN_TRUST),
it is found that generalized trust is positively and significantly
related to institutional trust, which conforms to previous re-
search findings on social capital and political trust, as discussed
above. Model 3 replaces the generalized trust variable with the
one that measures transnational identity. Here the result is also
significant, but the causation is in the opposition direction.
While holding constant individual and country-level control
variables, those who identify themselves as being “Asian” are
found to be less likely to place their trust in the WB as a bene-
ficial institution. The last model (Model 4) containing both
independent variables lends further empirical support.
Table 4 contains regression results based on the World Trade
Organization as the dependent variable. Model 1, as before, is
the baseline model, which consists of many control variables
that reach the level of significance. Older subjects and those
with higher educational attainment are more likely to distrust
the WTO. Men and those who are married are also more likely
to hold this view. In contrast, people who belong to a higher
socioeconomic status (according to subjective assessment) have
the opposite opinion. As for the religious category, Muslims are
less likely to put their faith in the WTO as a benevolent organi-
zation. Ethnic pride is positively associated with institutional
trust. Per capita GDP is negatively related to it. And the coeffi-
ient for the regional dummy variable suggests that those who c
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 277
Table 4.
Logistic coefficients from regressing TRUST_WTO on selected independent and control variables.
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4
Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E.
AGE .007** .003 .008** .003 .008** .003 .008** .003
MALE .121* .048 .113* .048 .123* .049 .117* .049
MARRIED .135* .059 .148* .059 .146* .060 .160** .060
EDUC .058** .018 .052** .018 .066*** .018 .060** .018
SES .079* .036 .072* .036 .073* .037 .068 .037
CATHOLIC .036 .133 .057 .134 .086 .135 .106 .135
PROTESTANT .167 .109 .175 .110 .156 .110 .164 .111
MUSLIM .146* .071 .161* .071 .133 .071 .147* .071
RELIGIOSITY .025 .015 .021 .015 .026 .015 .022 .015
ETHNIC_PRIDE .146*** .035 .137*** .036 .154*** .037 .146*** .037
ENGLISH .002 .030 .004 .030 .006* .031 .011 .031
INT_EXP .175 .094 .168 .094 .216 .096 .208* .097
GLOB_WORRY .082 .102 .068 .103 .065 .103 .054 .103
ECON_WORRY .017 .022 .017 .022 .017 .023 .018 .023
GDP_PER .213*** .018 .215*** .021 .218*** .022 .214*** .024
EAST_ASIA .166* .079 .122 .081 .081 .082 .043 .084
GEN_TRUST .243*** .051 .228*** .052
TRANS_ID .197*** .052 .193*** .053
INTERCEPT1 2.837*** 2.839*** 2.957*** 2.951***
INTERCEPT2 .799*** .798*** .998*** .986***
INTERCEPT3 1.774*** 1.789*** 1.592*** 1.607***
2 LL 14375.080 14619.580 13816.777 13645.011
N 6461 6391 6207 6178
Note: *<.05; **<.01; ***<.001.
live in East Asia (China, Japan, South Korea) are more likely to
trust the WTO to operate in the best interest of their respective
society. According to Model 2, generalized trust is again sig-
nificantly and positively related to institutional trust. Consistent
with the earlier finding, Model 3 in Table 4 offers the same
result: transnational identity is negatively related to institutional
trust. The regression coefficients from Model 4 point in the
same consistent direction as well: those who are more likely to
trust others have a greater tendency to trust an international
organization to act in beneficial ways. On the other hand, the
subjects who view themselves as belonging to a transnational
group are less inclined to uphold this view.
The last set of results from estimating logistic regression
models, using institutional trust in MNCs as the dependent
variable, are reported in Table 5. A similar set of individual
attributes are found to be related to the outcome variable: age,
gender, marital status, and educational attainment all negatively
contribute to the level of institutional trust. Catholics and Mus-
lims, however, have a more positive opinion of MNCs, as is the
case with those who are more religious and take greater pride in
their ethnic affiliation. The measure of national economic de-
velopment, as reflected in the per capita GDP variable, is nega-
tively associated with individual-level trust in global institu-
tions. And people who live in East Asia are more likely to place
their trust in MNCs to operate in the best interests of their re-
spective society. The findings for the two main independent
variables in Table 5 are basically identical compared with those
from the previous analyses: while interpersonal generalized
trust has a positive effect on people’s institutional trust, the
latter is negatively associated with transnational identity.
Discussion and Conclusion
The intended purpose of this paper was to investigate the de-
terminants of institutional trust. In particular, the empirical
analysis was informed by two lines of inquiry-how generalized
trust and transnational identity reely affect the degree of spectiv
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 5.
Logistic coefficients from regressing TRUST_MNC on selected independent and control variables.
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4
Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E. Estimate S.E.
AGE .007** .002 .007** .002 .007** .002 .007** .002
MALE .099* .046 .087 .046 .111* .047 .101* .047
MARRIED .199*** .056 .215*** .056 .214*** .057 .231*** .057
EDUC .066*** .017 .060** .017 .067*** .018 .061** .018
SES .065 .034 .053 .034 .057 .035 .045 .035
CATHOLIC .281* .129 .294* .130 .347** .130 .360** .131
PROTESTANT .003 .105 .007 .107 .011 .106 .002 .107
MUSLIM .771*** .068 .760*** .069 .794*** .069 .785*** .069
RELIGIOSITY .039** .014 .035* .014 .034* .015 .029* .015
ETHNIC_PRIDE .080* .034 .058 .034 .101** .035 .079* .035
ENGLISH .045 .029 .046 .029 .025 .029 .025 .030
INT_EXP .080 .090 .074 .091 .137 .092 .130 .093
GLOB_WORRY .176 .100 .177 .101 .161 .101 .165 .102
ECON_WORRY .021 .021 .023 .021 .019 .022 .021 .022
GDP_PER .121*** .017 .123*** .015 .119*** .012 .117*** .015
EAST_ASIA .403*** .076 .355*** .078 .261** .080 .217** .081
GEN_TRUST .218*** .049 .214*** .050
TRANS_ID .380*** .050 .382*** .051
INTERCEPT1 2.827*** 2.841*** 2.980*** 2.991***
INTERCEPT2 .883*** .900*** 1.158*** 1.173***
INTERCEPT3 1.528*** 1.517*** 1.272*** 1.264***
2 LL 14745.766 14580.142 14265.751 14093.476
N 6527 6456 6300 6210
Note: *<.05; **<.01; ***<.001.
individual confidence in the workings of global institutions,
namely the World Bank, the WTO, and multinational corpora-
tions. Quantitative results strongly support the claim that gen-
eralized trust in fact leads to higher levels of institutional trust.
There has been much theorizing about and looking into how
and to what extent generalized or social trust shapes individual
perception and evaluation of governmental, non-governmental,
and for-profit organizations. The role of trust has been viewed
as critical since it allows and facilitates many forms of social
exchange (Cook, 2001; Gambetta, 1998). According to Fuku-
yama (1995), it can even help explain the cross-national varia-
tion in creating material prosperity (see also Knack & Keefer,
2007). Whether it relates to solving the Hobbesian problem of
order (Gellner, 1998), reduce social complexities (Luhmann,
1980), or minimize the principal agent problem (Ensminger,
2001; Grief, 1989), trust has been shown to be of fundamental
importance. It is also invaluable since it provides the lubricant
necessary for the smooth functioning of political institutions.
That is, the propensity to trust others can aid effective democ-
ratic governance. It is with respect to this particular view that
the role (i.e., political function) of trust has been developed into
the social capital argument, as initially laid out by Putnam
(1993, 2000). As one author puts it succinctly, “trust is proba-
bly the main component of social capital, and social capital is a
necessary condition of social integration, economic efficiency
and democratic stability” (Newton, 2001: p. 202).
This study offers further empirical light on the causal rela-
tionship between social capital and institutional trust but does
so by extending the analysis to go beyond treating local politi-
cal organizations as the main outcome variables, which has
been the case with the bulk of the previous research. The quan-
titative results reported above adds a global dimension to the
inquiry by analyzing individual-level institutional trust of three
major organizational actors that embody economic globaliza-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 279
tion. In addition, the causal impact of a new independent vari-
able is examined, something that the extant literature does not
take into account. In the era of increasing economic and cul-
tural globalization, transnational identity has become one of the
characteristic traits of contemporary life. How people perceive
themselves has critical ramifications in terms of policy choices
and preferences. As Kunovich (2009) shows, for example, there
is a strong association between the content of national identity
and the types of domestic and foreign policies people prefer and
endorse, which can “affect both potential members of a nation
and a nation’s interactions with other countries” (591).
One of the contributions this paper makes is to examine the
extent to which people’s self-identification affects their subjec-
tive evaluation of a global financial institution, an international
regulatory agency, and multinational businesses. According to
the regression output, the coefficients for the transnational
identity variable are consistently robust and negative: those
who identify themselves as belonging to a group that lies be-
yond national borders are less likely to trust global institutions
to function in ways that could benefit their lives. This is a novel
finding with interesting implications. Clearly, globalization will
only intensify over time. As many scholars have observed, the
multifaceted process of globalization “is here to stay.” And
“how it will be governed is the [only] question” (Nye & Dona-
hue, 2000: p. 38). Naturally, then, globalization will usher in
ever more forcefully transnational identities. After all, their rise
is seen as an inevitable product of cultural globalization, as
Huntington’s (1993, 1996) clash of civilization argument and
related others have made all too apparent. If so, there will be a
growing tension between the increasing and perhaps inexorable
roles played by international organizations like the WB, the
WTO and MNCs as agents of globalization and people’s dis-
trust in them as they progressively take on an identity that tran-
scends national boundaries. It remains an empirical question as
to how and to what degree this tension will get in the way of
effective global governance, an issue that remains both urgent
and controversial (Brown et al., 2000).
The current study has some limitations, which point toward
the possible directions for future research. First of all, as Hardin
(2002) explains, much of the research on social capital and
institutional or political trust is really about the “trustworthi-
ness” of political institutions. As such, researchers should in-
clude in the analysis various performance-related satisfaction
measures. This would provide a more conservative and hence
more accurate test of whether or not generalized trust has any
causal influence on institutional trust. The dataset provided by
the Asian Barometer Survey, unfortunately, does not provide
information on institutional performance. Also problematic
may be the questionnaire designed to measure generalized trust.
As Hardin (2002) points out, what the standard survey question
seeks to measure “is not genuinely generalized trust. The re-
spondents are forced by the vagueness of the questions to give
vague answers, and it is a misdescription to label their re-
sponses as generalized trust” (61). This study tried to overcome
this limitation by creating the generalized trust variable using
another question in the survey (“Do you think that people gen-
erally try to be helpful or do you think that they mostly look out
for themselves?”). This too, however, is not without conceptual
and methodological problems, and future research should come
up with a variety of improved questions as possible alterna-
Another shortcoming has to do with the issue of causality.
Though this is not a major concern for the present study, it is
something that plagues many others that seek to establish a link
between social capital and various outcome variables related to
democracy and democratic governance. According to Paxton’s
(2002) findings, the relationship between social capital, which
she conceptualizes in terms of generalized trust and associa-
tional membership, and democracy is reciprocal. Using panel
data, she demonstrates that the causality in fact runs both ways.
Studies based on longitudinal data would minimize this thorny
issue and help produce more convincing results underscoring
the role of social capital in producing institutional trust, support
for democracy, and political activism as well as other important
outcomes. Also, there may be critical contextual factors, such
as the level of democratic development of a nation, that mediate
the effects of generalized trust on various political conse-
quences, which many previous studies have ignored (see Jamal
& Noorudin, 2010). Future attempts need to incorporate these
into the analytical framework for more nuanced arguments
concerning the “functions” of social capital.
The literature on generalized trust and social capital is indeed
huge and growing. They have given much legitimacy to the
political culture perspective and offered valuable insights into
the workings of various aspects of democracy. As is the case
with any other popular concept in the social sciences, however,
they suffer from the danger of losing heuristic value. Preventing
that from happening will require more careful hypothesizing
about the causality between independent and dependent vari-
ables and a more refined methodological approach geared to-
ward collecting higher quality data. This is a tall order but one
that promises a great deal of intellectual payoff.
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