Trust and Social Activity versus Income Range. The Spirit Level Concept in the Light Of European Social Survey
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AbstractThis article attempts to verify the findings by Richard G. Wilkinson and Kate E. Pickett (2009) which suggest a strong correlation between the inequality of income distribution and the citizens’ life quality. According to Wilkinson and Pickett’s thesis, here referred to as “the Spirit Level concept”, all social problems (ranging from drug abuse, obesity to the closed channels of social mobility) are directly connected with the scale of social inequality in a country. The greater the income range is, the more intense the social dysfunctions are. In the present paper we challenge this thesis using the data of the European Social Survey. The Spirit Level concept is proved with reference to two phenomena which are essential to the functioning of societies – trust (in other people, the legal system, institutions and the police) and social activity (assessed on the basis of organizational activity). This concept has been tested in 20 countries of the European Union. Questioning the universal dimension of the Spirit Level concept, we demonstrate that although there is some correlation between the increase in inequality and the decline in trust (especially in the countries at the extreme ends of the income scale), historical context and moral values of countries determine significant exceptions to the principle by Wilkinson and Picket. Nevertheless, an evident correlation between the degree of social stratification and social activity is to be observed. Th e less egalitarian a country is, the weaker the willingness to actively participate in voluntary organizations.
Kultura i Edukacja No. 5 (79), 2010, pp. 81-106