Adolescents' confidence in institutions: Do America's youth differentiate between legal and social institutions?

Adam D. Fine, Emily Kan, Elizabeth Cauffman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Scopus citations


    It is widely believed that there is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement in the United States. What remains to be seen, however, is whether adolescents actually differentiate between legal authorities and other types of authorities. Leveraging cross-sectional, nationally representative data of 12th graders from every year from 2006 to 2017 from Monitoring the Future (N = 10,941), the results indicate that adolescents distinguish between legal authorities (e.g., law enforcement, justice system) and social authorities (e.g., schools, religious institutions). Youth report more confidence in social authorities than in legal authorities. Furthermore, whereas confidence in social authorities remained largely stable between the cohorts over the last decade, confidence in legal authorities, and in law enforcement in particular, has declined markedly. Although there may be an era of mistrust in legal authorities, it cannot be attributed to a ubiquitous anti-authority attitude among modern adolescents in the United States.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1758-1767
    Number of pages10
    JournalDevelopmental psychology
    Issue number8
    StatePublished - Aug 2019


    • Adolescent development
    • Confidence
    • Perceptions of authorities
    • Procedural justice

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Demography
    • Developmental and Educational Psychology
    • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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