Learned Distrust? An Age-Period-Cohort Analysis of Trends in Declining Confidence in Science during the Expansion of Higher Education in the General Social Survey

Robert W. Ressler, University of Texas at Austin
Sarah Blanchard, University of Texas at Austin

At a time when scientific and technological innovation are imperative to U.S. efforts to address globally threatening problems such as economic competitiveness, climate change, and hunger, Americans have reported declining confidence in science as an institution. This decades-long trend is counterintuitive considering that during this same period, more individuals than ever have graduated from institutions of higher education. This work takes an age-period-cohort approach to investigate trends in the association between educational attainment and trust in science over the past 40 years. Findings show that although postsecondary education continues to build confidence in science, both decreasing selectivity into higher education and a weakening of the positive estimated effect of education contribute to declining trust for U.S. adults. Our findings suggest that current trends will continue to erode confidence in science and point to a widening of the disconnect between the need for public support of science and public attitudes.

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Presented in Poster Session 8: Economy, Labor Force, Education, and Inequality/Gender, Race and Ethnicity