The Law of Jante and generalized trust


Cornelius Cappelen and Stefan Dahlberg. 2017. “The Law of Jante and Generalized Trust.” Acta Sociologica. Download article here


A widespread cultural phenomenon – and/or individual disposition – is the idea that one should never try to be more, try to be different, or consider oneself more valuable than other people. In Scandinavia this code of modesty is referred to as the ‘Jante mentality’, in Anglo-Saxon societies the ‘tall puppy syndrome’, and in Asian cultures ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered down’. The study reported here examines how this modesty code relates to generalized trust. We argue, prima facie, that a positive and a negative relationship are equally plausible. Representative samples of the Norwegian population were asked about their agreement with the Jante mentality and the extent to which they have trust in other people. Two population surveys were conducted; one measuring individual level associations and another measuring aggregate level associations. It was found that the relationship between having a Jante mentality and trust is negative, at both levels of analysis and, furthermore, that the Jante mentality – this modesty code assumed to be instilled in Scandinavians from early childhood – is a powerful predictor of generalized trust.