People “grow to trust” as they get older

IMG_5928Posted by Julie Deardorff

Contrary to some stereotypes, getting older doesn’t necessarily make people cynical and suspicious. Instead, trust tends to increase as people age, a development that can be good for well-being.

“When we think of old age, we often think of decline and loss,” says study coauthor Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy.

“But a growing body of research shows that some things actually get better as we age,” Haase says. “Our new findings show that trust increases as people get older and, moreover, that people who trust more are also more likely to experience increases in happiness over time.”

The studies, combined into one research paper, appear online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.


In the first study, the researchers examined the association between age and trust at multiple points in history, using a sample of 197,888 individuals from 83 countries. The results suggested a positive association between age and trust, one that has existed for at least the past 30 years with little change over time.

“This suggests that it’s not simply about people being born at certain times,” says study coauthor Michael Poulin, associate professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo.

The second study followed 1,230 people in the US over time and found that these individuals became more trusting as they aged.

“For millennials, generation X, and baby boomers alike, levels of trust increase as people get older,” says Haase, who directs Northwestern’s Life-Span Development Lab. “People really seem to be ‘growing to trust’ as they travel through their adult years.”


One explanation for age-related increases in trust is that since older adults are increasingly motivated to give back to others, they believe them to be good and trustworthy, Poulin says.

“We know that older people are more likely to look at the bright side of things,” Haase adds. “As we age, we may be more likely to see the best in other people and forgive the little letdowns that got us so wary when we were younger.”

“Both studies found a positive association between trust and well-being that was consistent across the life span, suggesting that trust is not a liability in old age,” Poulin says.

“Our findings suggest that trust may be an important resource for successful development across the life span,” Haase adds.