Social Trust and Health: a Perspective of Urban-Rural Comparison in China

  • Junfeng Jiang
  • Qingqun Li
  • Ru Kang
  • Peigang WangEmail author


In studies on social capital and health, trust is usually treated as a one-dimensional, rather than a multidimensional, conception. Based on the data from the Chinese General Social Survey of 2010, which included 3866 cases, this study examined the associations between four trust forms and two health outcomes through hierarchical linear models in urban versus rural China. Results showed that at the individual level, general trust was positively related to rural residents’ physical health and urban residents’ psychological health; institution trust was positively associated with psychological health in both urban and rural China but negatively related to urban residents’ physical health; weak-tie trust brought more psychological health for both urban and rural residents, but intimacy trust was only positively associated with the psychological health of urban residents. At the county level, general trust had a detrimental effect on rural residents’ physical health, whereas institution trust had a detrimental effect on urban residents’ psychological health. Living in a county with more weak-tie trust, individuals with less weak-tie trust were less likely to be healthy. Therefore, sufficient healthcare and education resources are needed to be supplied, especially in rural China, to exert the positive effect of various trust forms on health.


General trust Special trust Physical & psychological health Urban-rural comparison China 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

No conflict of interest exits in the submission of this manuscript, and manuscript is approved by all authors for publication.

Ethical Statement

There is no ethics approval for the data we use are public.


  1. Abbott, S., & Freeth, D. (2008). Social capital and health: Starting to make sense of the role of generalized trust and reciprocity. Journal of Health Psychology, 13(7), 874–883.Google Scholar
  2. Adler, N. E., & Newman, K. (2002). Socioeconomic disparities in health: Pathways and policies. Health Affairs, 21(2), 60–76.Google Scholar
  3. Campos-Matos, I., Subramanian, S. V., & Kawachi, I. (2016). The ‘dark side’ of social capital: Trust and self-rated health in European countries. European Journal of Public Health, 26(1), 90–95.Google Scholar
  4. Carlson, P. (2016). Trust and health in Eastern Europe: Conceptions of a new society. International Journal of Social Welfare, 25(1), 69–77.Google Scholar
  5. Chan, D. K. C., Hamamura, T., Li, L. M. W., & Zhang, X. (2017). Is trusting others related to better health? An investigation of older adults across six non-western countries. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48(8), 1288–1301.Google Scholar
  6. Chanley, V. A., Rudolph, T. J., & Rahn, W. M. (2000). The origin and consequences of public trust in government: A time series analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64(3), 239–256.Google Scholar
  7. Chemaitelly, H., Kanaan, C., Beydoun, H., Chaaya, M., Kanaan, M., & Sibai, A. M. (2013). The role of gender in the association of social capital, social support, and economic security with self-rated health among older adults in deprived communities in Beirut. Quality of Life Research, 22(6), 1371–1379.Google Scholar
  8. Chen, H., & Meng, T. (2015). Bonding, bridging, and linking social capital and self-rated health among Chinese adults: Use of the anchoring vignettes technique. PLoS One, 10(11), e0142300.Google Scholar
  9. Chen, Z., Xie, B., & Ding, C. (2012). Chinese style resource curse with the viewpoint of dual-track system. Science Research Management, 33(8), 153–160.Google Scholar
  10. Delhey, J., Newton, K., & Welzel, C. (2011). How general is trust in "most people"? Solving the radius of trust problem. American Sociological Review, 76(5), 786–807.Google Scholar
  11. Engbers, T. A., Thompson, M. F., & Slaper, T. F. (2017). Theory and measurement in social capital research. Social Indicators Research, 132(2), 537–558.Google Scholar
  12. Fei, X., 2007. Rural China. Shanghai People‘s Publishing House, Shanghai.Google Scholar
  13. Feng, Z., Vlachantoni, A., Liu, X., & Jones, K. (2016). Social trust, interpersonal trust and self-rated health in China: A multilevel study. International Journal for Equality in Health, 15, e180.Google Scholar
  14. Ferlander, S. (2007). The importance of different forms of social capital for health. Acta Sociologica, 50(2), 115–128.Google Scholar
  15. Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. Fress Press Paperbacks.Google Scholar
  16. Gilson, L. (2003). Trust and the development of health care as a social institution. Social Science & Medicine, 56(7), 1453–1468.Google Scholar
  17. Glanville, J. L., & Paxton, P. (2007). How do we learn to trust? A confirmatory tetrad analysis of the sources of generalized trust. Social Psychology Quarterly, 70(3), 230–242.Google Scholar
  18. Glanville, J. L., & Story, W. T. (2018). Social capital and self-rated health: Clarifying the role of trust. Social Science Research, 71, 98–108.Google Scholar
  19. Hu, A. (2014). Social participation, types of trust, and subjective wellbeing: Investigation based on CGSS2005. Journal of Social Sciences, 36(4), 64–72.Google Scholar
  20. Hu, R., & Hu, K. (2008). The compositional differences of social capital between rural and urban areas. Journal of Xiamen University, 48(6), 64–70.Google Scholar
  21. Jen, M. H., Sund, E. R., Johnston, R., & Jones, K. (2010). Trustful societies, trustful individuals, and health: An analysis of self-rated health and social trust using the world value survey. Health & Place, 16(5), 1022–1029.Google Scholar
  22. Kawachi, I., & Berkman, L. F. (2000). Social cohesion, social capital, and health. In L. F. Berkman & I. Kawachi (Eds.), Social epidemiology (pp. 174–190). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B. P., & Glass, R. (1999). Social capital and self-rated health: A contextual analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 89(8), 1187–1193.Google Scholar
  24. Kawachi, I., Subramanian, S. V., & Kim, D. (2008). Social capital and health. In Springer. New York: New York Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kennelly, B., O'Shea, E., & Garvey, E. (2003). Social capital, life expectancy and mortality: A cross-national examination. Social Science & Medicine, 56(12), 2367–2377.Google Scholar
  26. Lin, N. (2001). Social capital: A theory of social structure and action. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mansyur, C., Amick, B. C., Harrist, R. B., & Franzini, L. (2008). Social capital, income inequality, and self-rated health in 45 countries. Social Science & Medicine, 66(1), 43–56.Google Scholar
  28. Meng, T., & Chen, H. (2014). A multilevel analysis of social capital and self-rated health: Evidence from China. Health & Place, 27, 38–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Mmari, K., Marshall, B., Lantos, H., & Blum, R. W. (2016). Who adolescents trust may impact their health: Findings from Baltimore. Journal of Urban Health, 93(3), 468–478.Google Scholar
  30. Moore, S., Shiell, A., Hawe, P., & Haines, V. A. (2005). The privileging of communitarian ideas: Citation practices and the translation of social capital into public health research. American Journal of Public Health, 95(8), 1330–1337.Google Scholar
  31. Nieminen, T., Prättälä, R., Martelin, T., Härkänen, T., Hyyppä, M. T., Alanen, E., & Koskinen, S. (2013). Social capital, health behaviors and health: A population-based associational study. BMC Public Health, 13, e613.Google Scholar
  32. Novak, D., Suzuki, E., & Kawachi, I. (2015). Are family, neighborhood and school social capital associated with higher self-rated health among Croatian high school students? A population-based study. BMJ Open, 5(6), e07184.Google Scholar
  33. Poortinga, W. (2006). Social capital: An individual or collective resource for health? Social Science & Medicine, 62(2), 292–302.Google Scholar
  34. Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling alone: America's decline in social capital. Journal of Democracy, 6, 65–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Qi, Y. (2014). Reliability and validity of self-rated general health. Chinese Journal of Sociology, 34(4), 196–215.Google Scholar
  36. Qi, L., & Wang, C. (2011). Health gradient and rural-urban disparity: An empirical study based on data from 9 provinces of China. Chinese Health Economics, 30(1), 11–13.Google Scholar
  37. Riumallo-Herl, C. J., Kawachi, I., & Mauricio, A. (2014). Social capital, mental health and biomarkers in Chile: Assessing the effects of social capital in a middle-income country. Social Science & Medicine, 105, 47–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rocco, L. (2014). Trust me, you will be in better health. Health Policy, 116(1), 123–132.Google Scholar
  39. Snelgrove, J. W., Pikhart, H., & Stafford, M. (2009). A multilevel analysis of social capital and self-rated health: Evidence form the British household panel survey. Social Science & Medicine, 68(11), 1993–2001.Google Scholar
  40. Steinhardt, H. C. (2012). How is high trust in China possible? Comparing the origins of generalized trust in three Chinese societies. Political Studies, 60(2), 434–454.Google Scholar
  41. Subramanian, S. V., Kim, D., & Kawachi, I. (2002). Social trust and self-rated health in US communities: A multilevel analysis. Journal of Urban Health, 79(4), 21–34.Google Scholar
  42. Szreter, S., & Woolcock, M. (2004). Health by association? Social capital, social theory and the political economy of public health. International Journal of Epidemiology, 33(4), 650–667.Google Scholar
  43. Takeshi, H., Li, L. M. W., & Derwin, C. (2017). The association between generalized trust and physical and psychological health across societies. Social Indicators Research, 134(1), 277–286.Google Scholar
  44. Taormina, R. J. (2013). Measuring trust in China: Resolving eastern and Western differences in concepts of trust, the third Asian conference of psychology and the behavioral sciences (pp. 2–11). Japan: Osaka.Google Scholar
  45. Wang, P., Chen, X., Gong, J., & Jacques-Tiura, A. J. (2014). Reliability and validity of personal social capital scale 16 and personal social capital scale 8: Two short instruments for survey studies. Social Indicators Research, 119(2), 1133–1148.Google Scholar
  46. Williams, S. L., & Ronan, K. (2014). Combinations of social participation and trust, and association with health status: An Australian perspective. Health Promotion International, 29(4), 608–620.Google Scholar
  47. Woolcock, M. (1998). Social capital and economic development: Towards a theoretical synthesis and policy framework. Theory and Society, 27(2), 151–208.Google Scholar
  48. Yan, Y. (1996). The flow of gifts: Reciprocity and social network in a Chinese village. San Francisco: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Yang, J., & Hu, R. (2016). Social capital and psychological health of urban and rural residents in China. Social Sciences in Yunnan, 36(1), 131–136.Google Scholar
  50. Yip, W., Subramanian, S. V., Mitchell, A. D., Lee, D. T. S., Wang, J., & Kawachi, I. (2007). Does social capital enhance health and well-being? Evidence from rural China. Social Science & Medicine, 64(1), 35–49.Google Scholar
  51. Zarychta, A. (2015). Community trust and household health: A spatially-based approach with evidence from rural Honduras. Social Science & Medicine, 146, 85–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zhang, Y., & Jiang, J. (2018). Social capital and health in China: Evidence from the Chinese general social survey 2010. Social Indicators Research, in press.Google Scholar
  53. Zhang, W., & Ke, R. (2002). Trust in China: A cross-regional analysis. Economic Research Journal, (10), 59–70.Google Scholar
  54. Zhao, X., Wang, W., & Wan, W. (2017). Regional inequalities of residents' health level in China: 2003-2013. Acta Geographica Sinica, 72(4), 685–698.Google Scholar
  55. Zhu, Y. (2003). Cultural analysis of the difference between urban and rural economic development in China. Probe, 19(3), 115–117.Google Scholar
  56. Zhu, H., & Yao, Z. (2015). The impacts of social trust on urban residents' health. Urban Problems, 34(9), 94–98.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Health SciencesWuhan UniversityWuhan CityChina

Personalised recommendations