Economic strain and perceptions of social cohesion in Europe: Does institutional trust matter?



The degree to which different social groups get along is a key indicator of the cohesiveness of a society. This study examines perceptions of social cohesion among Europeans and explains variations in those perceptions by considering the separate and combined effects of economic strain and institutional trust. Analyses were conducted with the 27 member countries of the EU based on the Eurobarometer 74.1 on poverty and social exclusion conducted in 2010. Results show that individuals living in households experiencing economic strain perceive social cohesion to be weaker than their less economically hard-pressed counterparts. By contrast, individuals trusting their political institutions perceived there to be higher levels of cohesion. Furthermore, institutional trust substantially moderates the negative relationship between economic strain and perceptions of cohesion. These results are robust to various model specifications. Moreover, extending the analysis revealed that this moderating effect held when considering social relations between the poor and rich and between different racial and ethnic groups. Theoretical and practical implications of the results are discussed.