The Age Gap: Young People and Trust

The Age Gap: Young People and Trust

A Trilogy on Trust

This briefing is one of three in our Trilogy of Trust and exists to provide a snapshot of the academic literature in the arena of young people and trust. It sits alongside a fresh analysis of a field study commissioned by the John Smith Centre of 1,400 UK adults’ attitudes towards politicians and our public services.

We know young people voted very differently to older people at the EU referendum and at elections since. Intergenerational dividing lines are increasingly defining the UK’s political landscape. By looking to better understand political trust amongst young people, we can begin to understand the factors shaping how young people think and feel about politics, and how they participate in it.

In the UK, trust amongst young people, as across the general population, is low. Compared to our neighbours across Western Europe, reported trust amongst young people in the UK is below average. We found that a greater proportion of young people (aged under 30) reported higher levels of political trust as compared to older people.

  • Only 1 in 5 young people reported high levels of trust in elected politicians, and just 22% of young people reported high levels of trust in UK government. Young people trust political institutions considerably less than other key institutions – however this was considerably higher than older age groups with 45-54 year olds reporting the lowest level of trust at just 10%.
  • When asked about the extent to which they trust particular institutions, just 1 in 5 young people reported high levels of trust in the civil service, UK government or elected politicians.
  • Young people report relatively high levels of trust in a range of key institutions. The police are the institution the highest proportion of young people placed their trust in, followed by high street banks, the courts, and the BBC.
  • Similarly, only 1 in 5 young people reported high levels of trust in the print media, which suggests that consuming media might be fostering distrust amongst young people.

With growing numbers of young people accessing higher education, we might expect trust levels to be increasing amongst younger age groups. But as intergenerational inequality rises up the political agenda and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic looks to disproportionately harm the employment prospects of young people, the political landscape is shifting – particularly for this generation.