Relation Between Trust and Tolerance for Crime: Does Institutional Trust Increase Compliance With the Law?

Nancy Morris, University of Maryland at
Gary LaFree, University of Maryland at College Park

Institutions play an important role in limiting crime, and enforcing social and legal norms. Previous research indicates that individuals who view their existing legal structure as legitimate are more likely to comply with the law than individuals who report lower levels of legitimacy (Tyler, 1990). Aggregate level research also indicates that institutional legitimacy is negatively related to crime rates (LaFree, 1998). The current research explores the relation between institutional legitimacy and attitudes towards crime in a cross-national sample of individuals. Using data from the 1993 World Values Survey, we examine the impact of measures of political legitimacyand generalized trust on tolerance for crime. The sample consists of 59,161 individual interviews completed in 43 countries. We test the hypothesis that compared to individuals who report low levels of institutional legitimacy, individuals who report high levels of legitimacy will have lower tolerance for crime. Implications for theory, policy and future research are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006