Date of Award

August 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

John M. Roberts

Committee Members

Timothy L. O'Brien, Aneesh Aneesh, Thomas M. Holbrook


Geographical Regions, Institutional Trust, Legitimacy Crisis, Measurement Invariance, National Income Groups, Social Capital


There is a strong presence of legitimacy crisis in contemporary sociology. Habermas (1975) was the first to describe a legitimacy crisis, which refers to the decline in confidence in administrative functions, institutions, and leadership. A growing body of scholarship suggests that the world is experiencing an accelerating legitimacy crisis (e.g., the Trump presidency, Brexit, Coronavirus, the Great Recession of 2008, the war on terrorism, climate change, and mass global migration). The declining trust in institutions (e.g. government, justice system, police, parliament, political parties, and civic services) is a leading indicator of the legitimacy crisis. Institutional trust describes social and cultural expectations about abstract systems, their efficiency, and their capacity to conform with the expectations of various audiences in society. This dissertation is driven by two main research questions: 1) Does institutional trust have the same underlying construct across diverse societies? 2) What contributes to institutional trust in different sociocultural contexts? To answer these two research questions, this dissertation proceeds in three steps: 1) Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) is used to estimate institutional trust as the latent variable in terms of peoples’ confidence in six different institutions: police, parliament, civil services, government, political parties, and the justice system; 2) Multiple-Group Confirmatory Factor Analysis (MG-CFA) with six models is used to test the measurement invariance across seven geographical regions (East Asia & Pacific, Europe & Central Asia, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa, North America, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa) and four national income groups (low, lower middle, upper middle, and high) respectively; and 3) Structural-Equation-Modeling (SEM) is used to conduct the international exploration of institutional trust in diverse societal contexts. The data used in this study come from the World values Survey (WVS) and the World Bank (WB). Missing data is handled using listwise deletion, yielding a final sample from 1995-2020 with the n=198, 106. The final sample includes data from 92 countries, accounting for more than 85% of the World's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and 80% of the world’s population. The results show that the weak invariance, strong invariance, and restrict invariance are not supported. Thus, I conclude that there are significant differences in factor loadings, intercepts, and residual variances among all the geographical regions or national income groups. In addition, the results show that institutional trust is driven by different indicators. Regardless of the regions or national income level, interpersonal trust and group affiliation play the most important role in facilitating institutional trust. Future research could include more classifications or time points so that we will have more solid foundation to conduct the meaningful and valid comparisons across cultures and time.

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