Trust a few: natural disasters and the formation of trust in Africa

PublishedDecember 2023
DOI 2023/451-9

Individuals are at their most mental plasticity in their impressionable years (ages 18–25 years) forming long-term attitudes and behaviours essential to functioning in a society, such as trust.

In this paper we ask how exposure to natural disasters within the impressionable years may affect the formation of trust by matching data from over 1,000 disaster occurrences with data from 88,670 individuals across 36 African nations.

Exploiting the frequency of disaster exposure across the impressionable years, we show that disaster exposure has a negative and significant association with generalised trust.

Additionally, we show that disasters experienced during the impressionable years have an impact on other dimensions of interpersonal and institutional trust.

Our findings are robust to a battery of tests and add to the evidence base on the lasting impacts of natural disasters on individuals and societies.