City Research Online

Life satisfaction and confidence in national institutions: evidence from South America

Macchia, L. ORCID: 0000-0001-9558-4747 & Plagnol, A. (2018). Life satisfaction and confidence in national institutions: evidence from South America. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 14(3), pp. 721-736. doi: 10.1007/s11482-018-9606-3


A number of South American countries experienced turbulent democratic, political and economic upheaval over the last 40 years in the form of coup d’états in the 1970s, tumultuous elections, and repeated severe economic crises, some of which happened fairly recently. Starting in 2010, a number of court proceedings across the region have made past military coup d’états the focus of national conversations. South American citizens may, therefore, have lost confidence in national institutions that have repeatedly disappointed their trust and expectations; a situation with potentially detrimental effects on their well-being. Using eight waves of the Gallup World Poll collected between 2009 and 2016 across ten South American countries, we investigate to what extent people’s confidence in financial institutions, the honesty of elections, the military, the judicial system, the national government and the police is associated with people’s current and expectation of future life satisfaction. We find that people who report confidence in these six institutions rate their current and expected life satisfaction, on average, to be higher than those who lack these types of institutional confidence, even after controlling for demographic factors and macroeconomic indicators. In addition, we investigate changes over time for all six measures of confidence in institutions as well as for current and expectation of future life satisfaction. Our results suggest that governments’ investments in well-functioning institutions may contribute positively to subjective well-being in a society. However, our analysis is correlational and we thus cannot rule out reverse causality.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Publisher Keywords: Confidence in national institutions; subjective well -being; life satisfaction; South America.
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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