(with Paul Sum)

In Politics in Central Europe. Vol. 10, No. 3. 2014, 7-26


Generalized trust is associated with many positive political outcomes including enhanced social cohesion. Theory explains generalized trust as a combination of cultural and experiential factors. We consider sources of generalized trust among Romanian migrants, a dynamic population confronting a new environment. What factors within their new cultural context explain the level of trust they have toward strangers? Using data collected from Romanian migrants in Italy and Spain, we address this question. Our model includes exposure to an ethnically diverse environment, the presence of family, perceived hostility from host country citizens, personal crises, and illegal work status. We find that interpersonal experiences contribute to the level of generalized trust among migrants. Most importantly, negative social interactions or episodes correlate with lower levels of trust. We show that generalized trust is malleable among migrants suggesting that the experience of migration overrides the normally rigid level of trust that individuals hold. Our findings further suggest that successful integration of migrants, a collective good for the host country, can be effectively advanced through minimizing triggers of social vulnerability.