This paper analyzes the impact of institutions upon happiness through their intermediary impact upon individual trust. The empirical work is based on Eurobarometer data covering the 15 countries of the EU prior to its expansion in 2004. With respect to trust, we present evidence that, although it is endogenous with respect to the performance of the institution, changes in the individual’s personal circumstances can also have an impact, indicating that trust is not simply learned at an early age. Hence unemployed people tend to have lower levels of trust not only in the main economic institutions – government and the Central Bank – but in other state institutions too such as the police and the law. Trust also differs in a systematic manner with respect to education and household income, increases (decreases) in either increase (decrease) trust in most institutions. If we assume that more educated people make better judgments, this suggests that on average people tend to have too little trust in institutions. However, it is also possible that both of these variables impact on the interaction between institutions such as the police and other government agencies and the citizen, with prosperous, well educated people being at an advantage and possibly able to command more respect. Age too impacts on institutional trust. For the UN, the unions, big business, voluntary organizations and the EU, trust first declines and then increases with the estimated turning points ranging between 44 and 56 years. For most other organizations trust significantly increases with age. Turning to subjective well‐being, we find the standard set of socio‐economic variables to be significant. But the focus here is on the impact of institutional trust. We find that trust (mistrust) in the European Central Bank, the EU, national government, the law and the UN all impact positively (negatively) on well‐being. Hence overall our results support the conclusion that happiness does not solely lie within the realm of the individual, but that institutional performance also has a direct impact upon subjective well‐being.
Hudson, J. (2006). Institutional trust and subjective well‐being across the EU. Kyklos, 59(1), 43-62.