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Studies suggest that with age comes a willingness to trust

Despite what conventional wisdom may suggest, new research has revealed that people tend to be more willing to trust others as they age.

One study took a snapshot of people’s willingness to trust, collecting data for the World Values Survey from nearly 200,000 people in 83 countries. The findings indicated that on average, people around the globe are more likely to trust others as they grow older.

In fact, less than one quarter of 20-year-olds said they agreed with the statement, “Most people can be trusted,” while more than one-third of 80-year-olds said they agreed with that statement, according to the study. Moreover, the results remained the same, regardless of gender, education or income, explained Claudia Haase, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy and one of the study’s lead authors.

“These results really suggest that there is a positive association between age and trust with very little change over time,” she said. “As people get older, they become aware that their time is running out, and they really seek to maximize the good things in life.”

Specifically, people find ways to make their lives less complicated and more positive, she explained. This pursuit leads people to be more generous and to spend more time with their family.

While one may endure worsening physical health, “there’s a growing body of research that our emotional life can improve as we age,” Haase said.

In a second related study, researchers relied on General Social Survey data that tracked 1,230 people in the United States over time and found that among those people studied, trust increased as they grew older.

“We were able to really show with the second study that the level of trust increased over time in the same people, and that increase was true for all age groups,” including Millennials, Baby Boomers, as well as members of Generation X and the Silent Generation, Haase said.

Future studies will explore whether or not this developmental trend is true only in the United States or elsewhere around the world, as well as what factors may influence the degree to which people trust others as they age, according to this new research.

“There are things that do get better as we age,” Haase said.

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