Utah, South Dakota Best Places in U.S. to Lose Your Wallet

by Shane J. Lopez and Elizabeth Mendes

Trust in neighbors varies greatly across states and relates to wellbeing

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Utah and South Dakota residents are the most likely to express trust in their neighbors, with 85% in these states saying they would expect a neighbor who found a lost wallet or purse containing $200 to return it. Residents of Nevada and Mississippi are the least likely to express such trust, at 60% and 61%, respectively. In all states, a majority of residents would expect a lost purse or wallet to be returned.

Top 10 States, Trust in Neighbor Bottom 10 States, Trust in Neighbor

These findings, encompassing more than 170,000 interviews from the first six months of 2009 reveal that nationwide, 70% of Americans express trust in their neighbors, but this varies within a range of 25 percentage points across states. Although not included in this ranking of states, District of Columbia residents, at 43%, are in fact the least likely to trust that a neighbor would return a lost wallet. The wallet question, inspired by the 1996 Reader's Digest experiment that involved dropping cash-bearing wallets in metropolitan areas, has been validated by economists including Stephen Knack as a measure of social or interpersonal trust. The lower level of trust in D.C. most likely reflects the fact that it is entirely urban, while states encompass a wide spectrum of urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Trust in one's neighbors is loosely associated with broad geographic region -- 8 of the 10 states where trust in one's neighbors is the highest are located in the West and Midwest. Six of the bottom-ranking trust states are in the South.

U.S. Map: Trust in Neighbor, by State

Trust also appears to be related to population size: 6 of the 10 highest-ranking states (Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Montana) are among the 10 least populous states, and 5 of the states where social trust is lowest (California, Texas, Georgia, New York, and Florida) are among the 10 most populous states. California, New York, and Texas are also home to seven of America's largest cities.

Trust and Wellbeing Go Hand-in-Hand

Analysis of the relationship between neighbor trust and Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index scores by state reveal evidence of a link between social trust and wellbeing. States in which high percentages of respondents said "yes" to the wallet question also tend to have higher levels of overall wellbeing.

Scatterplot: Well-Being Index and Wallet Measure

Of the six sub-indexes of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, levels of neighbor trust are most closely related to the Basic Access Sub-Index, a measure of access to resources and services needed to lead a healthy life. Americans in 8 of the top 10 high-trust states reported above-average basic access. In all but two cases, Delaware and New York, those living in the lowest-trust states reported below-average basic access scores.

Bottom Line

Seventy percent of Americans nationwide express trust in their neighbors, as measured by a question about whether a lost wallet (or purse) would be returned, but trust in one's neighbors varies greatly across regions. A number of Western and Midwestern states, along with other states with smaller populations, top the list of high-trust places, whereas Southern and highly populated states are more prevalent on the low-trust list. People living in high-trust states have higher overall wellbeing, possibly due to greater access to the resources and services needed to lead an optimal life.

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Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 178,543 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted from January through June 2009, as part of Gallup Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±0.3 percentage points.

For the state-level estimates, the margins of error range from ±1 percentage point in large states like California to ±7 points in areas with the fewest interviews like Wyoming.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones and cellular phones.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

50 States and D.C. Results: If You Lost a Wallet or a Purse That Contained $200, and It Was Found by a Neighbor, Do You Think It Would Be Returned With the Money in It, or Not?

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