Last week, Russian business daily Vedomosti.ru reported on the poll performed by the Sberbank’s Center for Macroeconomic Research and the analytical center “Levada” to determine how certain psychological factors influence financial decisions of Russian citizens. Some of the considered factors were interpersonal trust, perceived control over and responsibility for own living conditions, as well as those of the society as a whole, and characteristics of social interactions. According to the authors, interpersonal trust is an economic resource as it plays a crucial role in shaping rational consumer behavior, pushes the family budget planning horizon further into the future and encourages growth of personal savings.
Authors of the study polled 6,000 citizens from all eight regions of the federation, of which 30 percent live in cities with a population over a million, 13.6 percent reside in cities of between 500,000 and one million, 31.4 live in cities with a population between 100,000 and 500,000, and 25 percent in cities with between 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants. The poll was performed in the second half of 2012 and revealed some unpleasant surprises. For instance, it found that the already low level of interpersonal trust among Russians is declining even further: while the share of respondents who expressed lack of trust in others in 2008 was 74 percent, the respective figure in 2012 increased to 81 percent. In 2012, only five percent of respondents felt completely comfortable with placing trust in others and another 27 percent considered themselves “inclined” towards trusting their fellow citizens. Surprises continued as the researchers found that the level of trust doesn’t correlate with social or demographic characteristics (including personal income and education), nor with the subjective feeling of control over and responsibility for one’s life and the level of social integration. Furthermore, although the percentage of surveyed who felt that they have control over their destiny was quite high at 75 percent, it turned out that the feeling of control ends outside of the immediate social circle. Approximately half of the surveyed feel that they have some say in their working environment, while only 27 percent felt that they can influence the situation in their own homes. Nine out of ten respondents felt that they have no influence whatsoever over the developments in their cities.
Although the sense of responsibility rises with income, it is accompanied by an increased perception of vulnerability. As much as 75 percent of the surveyed feel that the society they live in is unjust, which correlates almost perfectly with the percentage of those who feel it is possible to achieve success without breaking the rules – a mere 29 percent.
Authors of the study concluded that the roots of distrust are institutional and that its prevalence eliminates the hope that the strengthening of the middle class will lead to changes. They argue that meaningful changes are possible only on the level of social institutions and not in small, isolated islands. (Translator’s note: the belief that progress is attainable only through radical changes is somewhat typical for “closed” societies in which the tradition of citizen participation and compromise is absent; Western democracies are characterized by gradual, sometimes incremental progress, but are blissfully spared of violent revolutions in return).
The study also found that the increase in interpersonal trust doesn’t lead to changes in behavior, or as Mrs. Nadezhda Ivanova of the Sberbank’s Center for Macroeconomic Research puts it: “Trust without control and responsibility is an empty phrase”. According to the authors, it will take a different approach – one that involves stimulation of citizen participation – to enhance the social and cultural climate on a community level and, consequently, in the entire society.