Social Capital and Well-being

Michael S. Abrams

24 February 2008 MA in Individualized Studies Goddard College

I. What is Social Capital? a. Measurement b. Criticisms

II. Social Capital and Well-being a. Social Capital and Health b. Social Capital and Mental Health c. Inequality and Health

III. An Alternative Approach IV. Conclusion


On the occasion of my first residency at Goddard College, the cab driver who drove me to the school from the airport proffered his opinion that Burlington, and Vermont in general, were exceptionally great places to live. "Why?” I asked. "Quality of life," he immediately responded—perhaps not realizing that his answer could be considered tautological, but also entirely unaware that my avowed purpose in pursuing the MA in Individualized Studies was specifically to investigate the many measures that have been developed to assess 'quality of life' at the societal level. If I were ever to doubt whether levels of social capital were associated with a community's quality of life, I need only study Robert Putnam's 'social capital' map of the US. (Putnam is the American political scientist who is universally given the credit of almost single-handedly bringing the academic concept of ‘social capital’ into the popular lexicon.) East of the Mississippi--by Putnam's careful quantitative assessment--Vermont stands alone as the single state that can boast an impressive level of social capital. If one provisionally were to accept that a high level of social capital was prerequisite to a good quality of life, my cab driver's intuition about Vermont would dovetail perfectly with Putnam's painstaking analysis. ”Social capital” has a plethora of definitions, but all of them have some bearing on the strength of the social fabric that binds us together. This is reflected in such items as the degree to which we trust our neighbors, and the number of voluntary organizations to which we belong. Through his writings, Putnam has endeavored to raise popular awareness of the degree to which the quality of life that a society can offer is a function of the level of social capital that it embodies. In this paper I will attempt to critically examine his hypothesis. I will try to understand the degree to which well-being—especially as it manifests both in physical and mental health—can be linked to social capital. It would appear that health—both physical and mental—provides the ultimate test of the impact of any particular factor on well-being,

) To the degree that I am successful. (Such indicators include the Human Development Index.for the following reasons. but specifically in terms of its implications for my eventual purpose of evaluating the various indicators that have been developed to assess quality of life at the societal level. First: it would be hard to imagine a meaningful definition of human well-being that did not list health as a critical component. My goal is to understand the relation between social capital and human well-being. Michael S. Brazil . Abrams Sao Paulo. the Genuine Progress Indicator. and several others. I should be in a better position to make meaningful judgments about the usefulness of any such indicator. Second: although there are obviously degrees of health--whether physical or mental--such degrees tend to be objectively verifiable.

2005. ‘social capital’ is a form of ‘capital’. He was interested in elucidating disguised or invisible forms of social capital that were deployed by elites to maintain social inequality.I. or to amass still more capital. p. the first social scientist to develop a theory of social capital. were sufficiently powerful to compensate for economic disadvantages. p. 2637) So. He saw the nonmaterial exchanges inherent in social relationships as producing resources that members of elites drew upon to maintain their positions within the existing social structure. p. 2001. 2005. (Karner. 2219) For Coleman. p. (Hawkins. Coleman sough a far more benign conceptualization: His interest in social capital came out of his research on the importance of family and community in educational results. . [s]ocial capital constitutes a specific kind of resource that is available to an actor. but rather manifested in a variety of distinguishable forms: . p. but also society as a whole. 2637) From the point of view of the individual. He found that familial and community resources. 2637) The French social theorist Bourdieu. 2001. (Karner. p. (Hawkins. What is Social Capital? As a starting point for our discussion. For Coleman . social capital was not monolithic. . just what is capital? Pierre Bourdieu. 2001. not only individuals benefited from social capital. we will use what would appear to be a basic formulation: “Social capital is a form of capital that exists within relationships among individuals. 2005. 2218) Bourdieu’s particular focus was on the elite in French society.2219) Contrasting with Bourdieu’s anti-democratic formulation. (Hawkins. one of the fundamental concepts in Economics. social capital is based on reciprocity and thus comes with the expectations that obligations will be repaid as requested by other individuals in the network. which he defined as social capital. Unlike other resources. defined capital as accrued labor which can be tapped by individuals or groups—either to further their specific interests.” (Karner. together with two Americans—sociologist James Coleman and political scientist David Putnam—are generally regarded as having been the most important influences on the contemporary theory of social capital. Then.

norms can support and provide rewards for specific behaviors. Obligations and expectations constitute a form of social capital that depends on trust. The organization itself constitutes a form of social capital. 6) “Intentional organization” An intentional organization is an organization formed for the purpose of directly benefiting its members.1) “Obligations and expectations”. and a social g organization that can be appropriated for other purposes.” (Karner. 2) “Information potential”. Knowledge and information can be a critical resource for the accomplishment of one’s objectives. 2638-39) . 3) “Norms and effective sanctions” Within a social system. “This form of social capital advances the interest of those who invest in it. Therefore. 5) “Appropriable social organization” When the issue for which a social organization was constituted is resolved. For groups that are organized in the service of a particular issue. A social network may rely on favors. Such capital can be utilized when the individual needs to request a favor from another member of the network. Norms that encourage the subjugation of self-interest to the needs of the community are an especially powerful form of social capital.” There are two by-products of intentional organization: “a public good that benefits others who did not invest directly. one that can be appropriated for a new purpose. An individual in the network who has done many favors for other members. pp. One does favors for other members within the social network because one trusts that these favors will ultimately be reciprocated. the organization often continues to exist by redefining its goals. the strength of such networks can be inferred from the amount of outstanding obligations. Participation in a network can enable one to avail oneself of the knowledge that others have accrued. 2001. Examples include joint business ventures and PTA chapters. 4) “Authority relations”. can be said to have accumulated a certain amount of social capital within the network. the designation of a leader considerably amplifies the social capital of each of their members. which corresponds to the degree to which this trust is manifest. but who has not requested any favors from them.

nor in their respective degrees of political harmony. Any number of spectrums were represented. the third figure in the social capital triumvirate. Italy created a net of 20 regional governments that collectively spanned the country. Putnam and his colleagues sought the underlying cause for the radically different results—why some of the governments flourished. 1993. but each of them share “two common elements:(1) Social capital appears as an aspect of social structures. and others floundered. 2) . Several of the governments that were created floundered in corruption and inefficiency. 2638) In addition to developing a typology of social capital. from the quasifeudal to the thoroughly modern. (Putnam. newspaper readership. including the one from the pre-industrial to the post-industrial. p.These forms may be quite disparate. nor was it in the respective stabilities of the societies alone. and the level of membership in clubs and voluntary associations. but each sprouted within the context of a unique configuration of social. But others were amazingly successful—to the extent of generating an impressive array of innovative social. The critical factor was the degree of civic engagement. These governments had the same form. p. found his inspiration in his efforts to understand why northern Italy manifested far higher levels of civil integration than southern Italy. Coleman also identified several canonical factors by which social capital could increase or decrease: Networks could exhibit greater or lesser degrees of closure. 2001. economic and environmental programs. In 1970. He found that the critical factor was not ideology or standard of living. economic. Finally. 2640) Robert Putnam. (Karner. They could have access to more resources as the result of affluence. p.” (Karner. Their members could be motivated by a common ideology. as reflected in such statistics as voter turnout. from the traditionalist Catholic to the radical Communist. political and cultural conditions. 2001. they could flourish as the result of the availability of official aid. or of stability. and (2) actors are able to use social capital as a resource to achieve their goals within the social structure.

1993. in an article published in 1995 . first in the United States and then internationally. and choral societies” of our own. such as Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany have many active community organizations. mutual aid societies. 3) The Italian civic communities have their roots in the communal republics that were established in early medieval times in such places as Florence. . 2219) For Putnam social capital was a powerful latent factor to be tapped—whether the issue at hand was the encouragement of economic development or the development of more effective government.3) Fully aware that his findings had an enduring relevance. not hierarchically. are made to be broken. And here democracy works. The very concept of citizenship is stunted there. Engagement in social and cultural associations is meager. At the other pole are the uncivic regions. Second. and unhappy. Balogna and Genoa. civic participation and integrity. p. (Putnam. First. p.Perhaps his graphic conclusions merit quoting at length: Some regions of Italy. It would appear that the tradition of an active citizen dies hard. it provides a basis for a “generalized reciprocity” that makes for a more efficient society. These ‘civic communities’ value solidarity. From the point of view of the inhabitants. nearly everyone demands sterner discipline. it makes it easier to obtain information about the trustworthiness of individuals. almost everyone agrees. aptly characterized by the French term incivisme. Putnam believes that he can discern a virtually continuous path from the “guilds. “the bosses”. Putnam went on to apply the concept of social capital to his study of civic culture in the United States. he brought the concept of social capital into the world of political debate and the popular media. (Putnam. and therefore helps reduce the possibility of . p. public affairs is somebody else’s business—i notabili. nearly everyone feels powerless. They trust one another to act fairly and obey the law. Social and political networks are organized horizontally. not by patronage. p. like Calabria and Sicily. Trapped in these interlocking vicious circles. neighborhood associations. (Hawkins. Citizens in these regions are engaged by public issues. (Putnam. religious fraternities and tower societies for self-defense” of those times to the “cooperatives. 3) He cited three reasons for its potential to spur progress in both realms. 1993. . Laws. 2005. but fearing others’ lawlessness. It is hardly surprising that representative government here is less effective than in more civic communities. Leaders in these communities are relatively honest and committed to equality. exploited. 1993. “the politicians”—but not theirs.

p. pp. 2000.“opportunism and malfeasance”.” Social capital refers to those instances in which individuals cooperate either out of trust. Numerous writers have grounded this willingness to cooperate with others in the ability to trust. social capital might also be defined as the degree of trust that the individual has in others. 633) It is entirely possible for a group to be created by an outside agent. it embodies and reflects previous successful efforts at collaboration in such a way as to provide a basis for future efforts. (Paldam. “It would appear that trust is primary to most cooperation.) Another definition relates to the degree to which an individual can receive benefits based on her goodwill. and is termed the individual’s goodwill.” To the degree to which trust and cooperation are interdependent. Finally. 636) An alternative definition to the trust-cooperation definition of social capital is the network definition: an individual’s social capital is the number of networks that he has . p. 2000. is the Army platoon. or as the result of group pressure— but only in the event in which the group is voluntarily chosen and may be left. 1993. In such instances. p. by working together people further build trust. Therefore. (This trust is likely to be reciprocated. (Putnam. we can base the concept of social capital in their simultaneous presence and have some hope that it corresponds to an empirical aspect of a society’s functioning. 2000. p. “The ability of people in the population to form groups cooperating for joint projects is at the heart of social capital. (Paldam. (Paldam. we can define the social capital of a group as the average social capital of the individuals that constitute that group. but rather is enforced by some party external to the group. but thereafter common experiences result in the members learning to trust and rely on one another. Finally. the social capital would correspond to the amount by which the trust that develops within the group exceeds the level at which it is enforced by the third party. of course. 2000. The classic example of this. It specifically excludes the situation where the cooperation is not voluntary. 633) Coleman specifically defines social capital as the degree to which an individual can voluntarily work with others. However. (Paldam. 635) Trust and cooperation are interdependent. 3-4) The key to social capital is the difference it makes in people’s ability to cooperate. from personal motives.

Bonding social capital corresponds to the strong ties between such groups as families and friends. 2001. (Trust is tested by responding to the question.” It can be measured by counting the number of voluntary organizations. “linking social capital refers to relations between individuals and groups in different social strata in a hierarchy where power. (Paldam. or by determining the percentage of people who . 11) In fact. Putnam cites fraternal organizations and church reading groups as examples of bonding social capital. networks.642) In contemporary discussions of social capital three varieties are generally recognized: bridging. do you believe that most people can be trusted. Bridging social capital refers to the weak ties we have with distant friends. 2000. The anomalous results with China and Brazil might point to the necessity of using a question based on trustpayoff. and Switzerland and the Netherlands (both with very high levels of political participation). The three dimensions of social capital are: 1) Structural/Cognitive. 641) We might question to what degree our definition of social capital as trustcooperation is compatible with Putnam’s. bonding. A third definition is the total amount of benefits that the individual can draw on her networks.built. “Structural social capital describes the relationships. Putnam cites civil rights movements and ecumenical religious organizations as examples. which was based on civic engagement. p. Finally. social status. when necessary. p. associations and institutions that link together people and groups. Results from the World Values Survey for 32 countries show a high.” (Social Analysis and Reporting Division. 2000. or can’t you be too careful in dealing with people?”) Problematizing the results are four countries that appear to be extreme outliers: China (with very high trust). correlation between trust and “perceived political participation”. and wealth are accessed by different groups. Brazil (seemingly with no trust). norms and trust—both within and between groups and institutions. and linking. “Generally speaking. such as: “How many of your friends will trust you with a loan?” (Paldam. p. but not perfect. and business associates. social capital is a multidimensional variable that relies on three factors: relationships.

Some consider an individual’s social capital to be the degree of participation in organizations beyond the workplace. it can enable positive social action. it can be considered more fragile than the bonding variety. It offers “a common theoretical language that can allow historians. (McKenzie & Hapham. loyalty and exclusivity. However.” linking disparate groups within society. p. but not necessarily with the same name. “Cognitive social capital consists of values. 2641) All of the social sciences use the concept. 3) Horizontal/ Vertical This distinction pertains to whether the individuals that are linked are of similar or different strata in society. altruism and civic responsibility. Bonding social capital can either be benign or malign. It is intra-group.” (Karner. and relies on strong ties. manifesting both in strong families as in terrorist cells. and how strong their civic identity is. social capital has the potential of being an important unifying concept in the social sciences. pp. 2) Bonding/Bridging “Bonding social capital can be considered inward-focused and characterized by homogeneity. 14-15) Not the least of its values. As the ties it invokes are necessarily weaker. It can be measured by surveys of how well individuals trust their neighbors. An individual’s cognitive social capital can be associated with trust and feelings of belonging. sometimes called ‘collective moral resources’. and policymakers to work together in an open and constructive manner. reciprocity. sociologists. norms.” Examples of bonding capital include families and “small close-knit migrant groups. economists. anthropologists. 2001. It is generally recognized that a greater degree of cooperation between these fields could . 2006.participate in them. bridging capital is almost always benign—and binding disparate groups. political scientists.” “Bridging social capital is outward-looking. strong norms. Bridging social capital is manifest in a person’s social networks.

631) . “One of the main virtues of social capital is that it is close to becoming a joint concept for all the social sciences. p.” (Paldam.lead to far greater progress. 2000.

2219) The attempt to determine the amount of social capital in a community is problematic. it is questionable whether it should be determined simply by aggregating the measures of the social capital of its individuals. But there are even more fundamental problems—regarding the nature of the entity whose social capital should be measured. 636-37) . p. . 2006. we can also consider a version of Putnam’s Instrument in which the calculation of the number of organizations is weighted by the intensity of these contacts. However. First. (McKenzie & Hapham. especially if they are in the minority in their geographical area. Socially excluded groups such as those suffering from mental illness may link with each other through support groups which increasingly are based on telephone lines and the Internet. then what area size should we measure and who should define it —the community or the policy makers? (McKenzie & Hapham. pp. ? If it is geographical. . Many faith groups find their faith community more important than their residential community. there has yet emerged no clear consensus on how to measure it. p. (Paldam. 2000. Measurement There is general agreement on the importance of the concept of social capital. both academically and in public policy. 2005. As organizations can differ vastly in the intensity of the contacts that they can offer to the individual.a. it cannot be regarded as a true measure. Putnam’s Instrument can serve as a proxy for social capital as trust-cooperation. p. 17) The best regarded measure of social capital is Putnam’s Instrument. because the number of organizations can be greatly influenced both by culture and the population’s degree of affluence. 2006. which is the per capita number of voluntary organizations in a given population. What is a community—is it geographical or psychological or functional . (Hawkins. 17) Further there are numerous examples of situations where neighborhood is less important than other social ties: [A] refugee living in a stable neighborhood of a large city may find support in the city-wide refugee community from the same country far more important than the neighborhood community. However.

d. 2000. n. In the context of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. each receives a five-year sentence.) Clearly the critical issue in the Prisoner’s Dilemma is trust. However. A and B.One intriguing theoretical approach to measuring social capital is via the wellknown Prisoner’s Dilemma: Two suspects. So this dilemma poses the question: How should the prisoners act? (Wikipedia.) Therefore.” (Note that either player does so despite full knowledge that—for any given choice by the other player—he can always improve his individual outcome by defecting. 649) . and (2) network/trust payoffs. 2000. are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction. 638) Paldam concludes that the most promising measures of social capital are (1) Putnam’s Instrument and surveys of generalized trust. If both remain silent. both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other. “It would appear that Putnam’s Instrument yields the same measures of social capital as the standard polling question regarding generalized trust in most—but not all— countries. and. neither prisoner knows for sure what choice the other prisoner will make. p. the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. Each prisoner must make the choice of whether to betray the other or to remain silent. p. having separated both prisoners.” (Paldam. we may use the frequency with which the cooperative solution of the Prisoner’s Dilemma is played as a measure of social capital. visit each of them to offer the same deal: if one testifies for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent. The prisoners succeed or fail precisely to the degree that they are able and willing to trust one another. (Paldam. social capital can therefore be defined as “the propensity to play the cooperative solution.

2640) A society’s social capital tends to manifest in the form of vested interests that can inhibit necessary social change. pp. pp. prostitution and gambling rings. “Unfortunately. Obvious examples of this include guilds. Putnam had failed to consider the role of economics adequately in the deterioration of civic culture to begin with. Criticisms In Putnam’s optimistic view. 2005. 2640-41) . whether in the form of organized crime associations. violence and democracy.” Finally. Though such organizations are generally benign. as it can itself lead to social problems.” (Hawkins. 2000. as it seemed to promise a non-economic therapy that could assuage a variety of social ills. p. and violent purposes. unions. and overwhelming obligations. 2001.b. they also tend to be heavily invested in the status quo. 634-35) Also. by itself. 2005. it is clear that organizations can work against the social interest.” It can encourage divisiveness. which “impinges on personal freedom and expression. social capital was the hidden key to progress both in the political and the economic spheres. It demands conformity. or youth gangs.” Such an understanding had an inherent appeal. cannot really be considered a sufficient criterion. with in-groups and outgroups. it can result in excessive concentrations of power—with the Mafia being the classic example. Putnam saw social capital as something that primarily benefited society. participation in a network. and regional and tribal organizations. as opposed to the individual. trade organizations. lack of economic opportunity. Examples of this include networks that are associated with criminal.” Such forms are obviously not the kind that Putnam had in mind when he was considering the impact of voluntary organizations and newspaper readership. racist. (Paldam. (Karner. He argued that there was a direct correlation between the quality of civic culture and levels of poverty. Networks only have value to the degree they “have sufficient resources of value to make a difference. 2219) In particular. (Hawkins. Further. 2219) Another criticism is that “social capital can contribute to discrimination. (Karner. But the effects of social capital are not necessarily benign. p. p. restriction of individual freedom and creativity. 2001.

Economic transformations. Such transactions make little ‘economic’ sense if one’s interests are fundamentally transformed in the process because economic transactions are instrumental not transformative ones. 167-68) Increasingly. . even more serious issues regarding the use of social capital in its tendency to conflate the political and economic spheres. and they must constantly strive to have their deliberations informed by as many social perspectives as possible. on the other hand. Deliberative and participatory versions of democracy require an atmosphere and an attitude where people see their political interactions as motivated by the best.] (Smith & Kulynych. The term social capital ignores the emotionally rich world of meaning that has surrounded the idea of democracy and reduces that world of meaning to the very different language of economics. 2002. . The World Bank. pp. (McKenzie & Hapham. most just solutions to political problems . 21) . . p.There are. . perhaps. assume and require no such attitude of magnanimity and familiarity. [P]eople must see themselves and their interests as capable of being transformed by the political process. [Italics mine. Economic transactions generally begin with a fixed interest and work to achieve that interest. 2006. In remaining silent on the role of political parties and unions in the amelioration of the kind of power relations that help to maintain an underclass. . . is cited as the perpetrator of a conceptualization of social capital that argues for cutbacks in government services in the name of community self-reliance. the concept of ‘social capitalism’ is being criticized as a way to preempt discussions that properly belong to the political sphere. in particular. the World Bank incurs a ‘guilt by omission’—putting its considerable weight behind the spurious notion that it is possible to have a meaningful public sphere without conflict and strife.

” [Italics mine] (J. p. p. Of particular concern here will be social capital’s impact on health (both physical and mental). (Helliwell & Putnam. 53) The social circumstances that impact well-being include one’s economic standard of living. . monthly volunteering. 1444) Social capital impacts well-being directly. rather than the converse. Indeed. 2001. “with monthly club meetings. which is generally accepted as among the most.II. p. (J. Social Capital and well-being Having discussed some of the ways in which social capital is defined and measured—and having noted some of the ways in which the concept has been criticized—we now turn to a discussion of its impact on human well-being.” The results of Putnam’s DDB Needham Life Style Survey “confirm marriage to be the most beneficial form of social interaction—equivalent to moving 70 percentiles up the income hierarchy. research has begun to sever this equation: while well-being tracks income up to a certain economic level. crucial way in which human well-being can manifest itself. . However. until recently economists have generally equated well-being with standard of living. at some critical point the connection inevitably breaks down.54) However. 2001. This makes it more reasonable to posit that the causal path goes from social capital to subjective well-being. if not the most. monthly entertaining.F. Helliwell. Helliwell. . and bi-weekly church attendance each having the happiness of four extra years of schooling or a doubling of income. Social factors other than standard of living that influence .” However. 2004. differences in social capital are well-correlated both to subjective wellbeing and to suicide rates. one cannot directly infer causality from such a correlation. Putnam’s 2000 DDB Needham Life Style Survey demonstrated a link between social involvement and happiness. A study in 1967 “confirmed marriage to be the social connection showing the strongest positive correlation with subjective well-being.F. as both may have their cause in a genetic predisposition both to gregariousness and well-being.

education. especially when the alternative is being separated or divorced. 8) Frequent interactions with friends and neighbors support well-being. pp. . Further. [B]eing married increases both life satisfaction and happiness. 1435-36) The results of a meta-analysis of several global and national surveys show the impact of various social factors on well-being: 1) well-being is highest in the young and the elderly. From this we may conclude that “health constitutes one pathway through which social factors influence subjective well-being. pp. lowest in the middle-aged. . Having a family enhances subjective well-being. 6. 2004.” (Helliwell & Putnam. 2) well-being tracks income.” 5) “Gender appears to have no strong and straightforward effect on subjective well-being. 8. employment and age. 3) Unemployment significantly negatively impacts well-being. p.” 6) “ . research seems to be confirming that social factors play a critical role in physical health. but net of that effect . . . Health correlates well with subjective well-being. 10) Living in high-trust area supports well-being. race. 7.” 7) Both strong religious beliefs and frequent attendance at a house of worship are linked to subjective well-being. education appears to have no direct impact on subjective well-being. . (Helliwell & Putnam. and 10 above directly pertain to the amount of social capital upon which the individual is able to draw. 4) “Education improves health and thus indirectly improves subjective wellbeing. and it is likely that good health causes subjective well-being. 9) Civic participation supports well-being. 9. 1435) . and spending more time with one’s family helps even more. (Helliwell & Putnam. . 1440-43 Note that items 3. and much more than would be predicted by the loss of income that it represents.subjective well-being include: marital status. but only up to a point. .

we shall consider the direct impact of social capital on health—both physical and mental. They may support healthy lifestyles. . and for all other risk factors. gender. p. but the demands that participating in them may entail themselves represent a source of stress. In his view. from joining to health. and cut to a quarter by joining two groups. and dietary habits and to the prevalence of various diseases. age. your chance of dying over the course of the net year are cut in half by joining one group. There is very strong evidence of powerful health effects of social connectedness.In the following sections. 12) Social capital—both its presence and absence—have been linked to a variety of health outcomes and behaviors. there is a dual aspect to the effect of social capital on health. 58) Putnam suggests that there might be several reasons why social capital impacts health. 2003. 2007. and suffer from fewer health disorders. . 2) provide support for healthy behaviors. This evidence is not only strong in American states. depression.” (Field. Physical Health The consensus of a spate of studies on the impact of the extent of social ties on health is that “people with more social capital are likely to live longer. and dementia. such as the common cold. leisure time physical activity. social networks 1) can provide the kind of concrete health that can decrease stress levels. It is not people who are healthy that become joiners. (Putnam. it is clear from the studies that the arrow runs in the other direction. (Ferlander. 58) According to Putnam. such as smoking. 2003. Japan and other countries. but they may as easily support . HIV. 121) However. . Strong networks may well provide a buffer against stress. p. a. 3) enable one to attain medical services more easily. (Field. p. coronary heart disease. but also in Finland. Controlling for your blood chemistry. p. Social capital has been empirically linked to both reduced mortality and increased self-rated health. whether or not you jog. and 4) provide the kind of interaction that can boost one’s immunological system. Social capital has also been linked to various health-related behaviours. 2001. reflecting the dual aspect of social capital in general.

California assessed the health effects of four types of social ties: marriage. 2007. and “other”. It was shown that a weighted index combining the four types predicted not only mortality as a whole. respect for the rights of others gets a thorough testing on the highways that we share. (J.” (Ferlander. A 1979 study of a random sample of 5000 residents of Alameda County. but each of its component subdivisions: heart disease. social capital. or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people. . For each participant. Whether this is beneficial or harmful to one’s health depends on the particular norms that prevail in the network. “In general. This made it virtually impossible that differences in health status at the time of the initial survey were the underlying determining factor both of the size of the social networks and of the health outcomes. Helliwell. year of death. The connection between social networks and mortality was shown to be independent of all such control variables. “more than a third of the crosscountry variance of the late 1990s traffic fatalities is associated with mid 1990s national differences in average survey answers to the trust question . For example.F. church memberships. and availability/use of health care services. “There is a human tendency to follow one’s peers. The impact was greatest for marriage. 50) A study was performed to show the correlation of poverty. followed by the others in the order given above. Therefore. For example. . cancer. the incidence of traffic fatalities provides a good measure of social cohesion. the best predictor that an adolescent will smoke is whether or not her peers smoke. a greater number of ties was associated with a lower mortality rate. a variety of data was gathered. State-wide rates of all . For each type. 122) However. including: socio-economic status.F. and AIDS. 2001. Helliwell. do you think that most people can be trusted. “cerebrovascular and circulatory”. 2001. syphilis. 49-50) There are ways in which a society’s social capital directly impacts the health and well-being of its members.) (J. self-reported health status at the time of initial survey. “ (The trust question is. and membership in other types of social organizations.unhealthy ones. and income inequality with each of the four nationally-modifiable sexually-transmitted diseases in the US: gonorrhea. contacts with close friends. p. p. pp. Indeed. Chlamydia. at least some of the results do appear to be unambiguous. behaviors that could impact health.

(It combined "14 variables that span the domains of community organizational life.248 and . (Holtgrave & Crosby. respectively). with correlations r2 =. involvement in public affairs. 63) . informal sociability. and social trust. 2003. p. respectively). as measured by Putnam’s Comprehensive Social Capital Index for US states.128. 2003.220.283. only social capital and income inequality were useful predictors of AIDS (r2 = . respectively.") Of the three variables. volunteerism. 62-64) Geographical studies appear to confirm these findings: If you consider social capital to be a continuous variable.45 and . there are reports that areas with high levels of social capital have lower suicide rates. then areas with high social capital may be expected to have a lower rate of illnesses associated with problems of social cohesion compared with areas of low social capital. p. and . lower all-cause mortality and longer life-expectancy.four diseases correlated well with social capital. Finally.348.156. Indeed. only social capital proved to be a useful predictor for gonorrhea and syphilis rates. (Holtgrave & Crosby. All three variables had significant correlations with Chlamydia (r2 = . .

Examples include the impact of depression and stress. the physical environment. 2001. 11) Concerns with the ways in which society impacted mental health date back at least to Durkheim’s mid-century classic Suicide. p. As early as the 1930’s. p. 2006. . (World Health Organization. smoking and lack of exercise can weaken the immune system. 2001.b. 2006. p. researchers showed that variations in the incidence of mental illness in Chicago neighborhoods were associated with their respective levels of social cohesion. It also reflects the fabric of society— the way in which communities are set up and people live. Health behaviors can affect physiology —for example. p. 11) Mental illness has a powerful influence on overall health. In reality these disorders are similar to many physical illnesses in that they are the result of a complex interaction of all these factors. 9) Mental illness is not as different from physical illness as is commonly supposed: The artificial separation of biological from psychological and social factors has been a formidable obstacle to a true understanding of mental and behavioural disorders. or their socioeconomic status. People in some places have better mental health than people in other places. Mental Health Spatial patterns of social capital are also reflected in the incidence of problems with mental health.” (World Health Organization. 10) The physiological and behavioral ways by which physical and mental health can affect each other are distinct but not independent. Depression impacts the functioning of the endocrinal and immunological systems so as to make one susceptible to a large number of physical illnesses. This is not just a reflection of their genetic vulnerability. and has been shown to delay the healing of wounds. (McKenzie & Hapham. Stress is known to be a factor in the onset of the common cold. (McKenzie & Hapham.

“What results is a comprehensive model of mental and physical health. p. it is reasonable to conjecture that the primary way in which social capital impacts physical health is via predominantly psychological factors. p. and depression. Interest has focused on mental health in particular because it ranks among the three biggest drains on life-years by disability. p. 8) In the last two decades. It has been shown that the mortality rates for better-connected individuals are significantly lower than those of their more isolated peers. The studies at the individual level found “strong evidence for an inverse association between cognitive social capital (trust) and common mental disorders.” (World Health Organization. Lack of social support has been established as a risk factor for events as widely varied as accidents.” (World Health Organization.” (McKenzie & Hapham. Also. the field of behavioral medicine has accumulated an impressive amount of evidence that links mental and physical health. globally. 12) Research has established that social support can serve as a buffer against illness in many contexts. p. Some notable examples of this include: 1) “Women with advanced breast cancer who participate in supportive group therapy live significantly longer than women who do not participate in group therapy. informational and instrumental support. a meta-analysis was performed of 21 studies of the effects of social capital on mental health—14 of the studies were at the individual level. heart disease. not getting enough sleep can lead to forgetting medical regimens. and combined measures of social capital and common . since “social support is believed to buffer the individual against both chronic and acute stress through the provision of emotional. 8) It might be hoped that building social capital could result in the reduction of health costs and in illness rates. To the degree such illnesses are the result of stress. and 7 were at the ecological level. 2001. (McKenzie & Hapham. 13) But recently. 2006. physiological functioning can impact health behavior—for example. 2001.Conversely.” 2) Depression is a reliable predictor of heart disease 3) “Realistic acceptance of one’s own death is associated with decreased survival time in AIDS. in which the various components are related and mutually influential over time. 2006.” However. suicide. there was “less evidence for an inverse association between cognitive social capital and child mental illness. there is a simple explanation.

Social ties born through participation were expected to decrease mental distress.” The ecological studies were too diverse in methodology. p. Social capital can help as well as hinder well-being. It concluded that the strength of the current evidence—especially at the ecological level—is not sufficient to prescribe social capital approaches to reduce the incidence of mental illness. Hapham. p.mental disorders. critical forms of support and mutual obligation within the community. (Usher. 118) . & Huffy. social capital does not unambiguously support mental health. (De Silva. Because many of the organizations that the residents participated in were located within a community it may be that these voluntary ties further burdened individuals already struggling with their own environmental and economic stressors. the populations investigated. Theoretically. rather than as a mediator of the stress process. The obligations of time and energy required of the active participant in the inner city may simply serve as another form of stress. McKenzie. They increase cohesiveness and create a sense of duty and collective problem-solving behaviors. such connections were not only asset networks but also webs of obligation. and the mental illness outcomes studied to allow for useful comparisons. these lead to asset networks. Instead of reducing distress. 626) For reasons that are very similar to those that have already been discussed. 2006. 2005. however. that in the case of mental well-being. the extent of participation in various organizations actually tended to be associated with higher distress. The data indicated.

8-9) .” (Field. pp. 2003. pp. stress and ill-health. . This might explain the finding that countries with more economic equality have greater life expectancies. It varies from 0 to 1--with 0. found some evidence that social inequality tends to reduce social stability and undermines social networks. health correlates with equality—not with per capita GDP. . “It is . . . p. the most egalitarian rather than the richest developed countries which have the best health. Those areas with the highest income inequality had significantly greater age-adjusted mortality than those of low inequality and . (Mustard. corresponding to perfect equality. as measured by the Gini coefficient. 2003. . . 2003. this relationship was independent of absolute levels of mean household income. Richard Wilkinson . (The Gini coefficient measures the degree that a society deviates from a state of perfect egalitarianism. These findings were robust across three different measures of the income distribution. corresponding to the theoretical situation where a single individual controls all the wealth and everyone else has none.) (Mustard. 75) Data for 11 developed countries in 1970 show that life expectancy is negatively correlated with post-tax income inequality. confirmed the broad association that he identified between health and social cohesion.c. . 7-8) A study of metropolitan areas in the US showed that higher levels of inequality predicted higher levels of mortality. 1998. 57) Social capital has been shown to have less of an impact on health than socioeconomic status. (Field. Inequality and Health There would appear to be a basic connection between social capital. inequality. and health. 59) Among nations. Similar comparative research in the USA . 1998. p. leading to higher levels of anxiety. and 1. . (Field. p. It is likely that the kind of social capital that connects individuals with their better-off and worse-off compatriots has more of an impact on health than the kind that connects them with their socioeconomic peers.

” (Mustard. and with these under-investments then having consequences for health. pp. leading to behavioral and cognitive states which influence health. 2006. “Low income inequality” has been identified as a risk-lowering factor for mental health at the community level. However. 1998. (Mustard. pp. Another criticism regards the meaningfulness of international comparisons of income inequality. neither of these criticisms have proved to be compelling. 30) .The findings that link income inequality to physical health (either through life expectancy or mortality) have been criticized as not being robust with respect to the particular inequality measure that is chosen.McKenzie. (K. 1998. 9-10) One proposed way by which higher levels of income inequality can adversely impact the individual’s health is that “income inequality may be associated with a set of social processes and economic policies that systematically under-invest in physical and social infrastructure. Another explanation is that “large disparities in income distribution may have direct consequences on people’s perceptions of their relative place in the social environment. p. 14-15) Income inequality also has an impact on mental health.

in particular. . When any basic human need is thwarted. Intuitively we may feel confident that a causal relation should exist between them— surely. civic participation.III. of the behaviors associated with the concept of social capital are themselves basic human needs. (K. this would correspond well to what we have been discussing as bonding social capital.McKenzie. in particular. recognized that after the individual’s physiological and safety needs were met. sense of belonging. For example. the kind of well-being that is associated with physical and mental health— but that this connection should not necessarily be understood solely in terms of elaborate networks of causal relations. In his Hierarchy of Needs. My approach starts with the recognition that many. etc. trust. there will necessarily be an adverse effect on well-being. have positive ramifications for one’s health and well-being. one researcher discusses several complex graphical models that purport to detail the precise causal pathways in which low levels of social capital inevitably results in poor mental health at the community level. if not all. An Alternative Approach Both “social capital” and health—especially. pp. the very next level was the satisfaction of needs pertaining to love and belonging. Abraham Maslow . one’s connectedness. 2006. which include friendship and family. One important aspect of this adverse effect could plausibly manifest as a worsening of the individual’s physical and/or mental health. 27-36) I propose that there is a connection between social capital and well-being—and. mental health—are complex concepts. Recall that the one unambiguous result of a meta-analysis of studies of the impact of social capital on mental health found that bonding social capital.

parties. in the context of “Doing”. no hierarchies exist within the system. McKenzie. the economist Manfred Max-Neef has proposed a schema that attempts to significantly improve upon Maslow’s hierarchical formulation. p. Identity and Freedom. Poverty is conventionally defined either as an absolute or relative lack of income. and Interacting. 2005. the Matrix of Human Needs attempts to understand human needs as a system. simultaneities. all human needs are interrelated and interactive. & Huffy. 1992. Leisure. in the context of “Interacting”. and Identity are the needs most associated with what we have been calling “social capital. Affection. p. (Max-Neef. Participation. churches and neighborhoods. According to Max-Neef. However. Understanding.” Affection. Human needs must be understood as a system. Identity. in fact. 199) In Max-Neef’s schema. itself--and the remaining categories. with the recognition that there are nine basic needs. (Max-Neef. and to express opinions. can manifest as the need for a sense of belonging. 1992. the only strict hierarchy is between Subsistence—the precondition of life. there are. With the sole exception of the need of subsistence . it manifests as associations. p. . (De Silva. While these needs are purported to be constant throughout all times and cultures. nine basic human needs: Subsistence. . (Max-Neef. 1992. complementaries and trade-offs are characteristic of the process of needs satisfaction. Protection. we can speak of nine corresponding forms of poverty. to dissent.made a significant difference in the mental health of individuals. Creation. can manifest as the need for friendships and family. Each of these poverties can be said to have its own particular pathology. Doing. Participation. the particular means that are available for satisfying any of them are entirely dependent on the time and culture. Having. Each need interacts with the four basic human modalities of Being. can be associated with deprivation regarding at least three of the nine . In his schema. 626) More recently. 200) Thus. On the contrary. in the context of “Being”. as we have seen. 199) In contrast to Maslow’s hierarchy. in the context of “Having”. Participation. the result is his “Matrix of Human Needs”. that is. Affection. Hapham. it should not be unreasonable to infer that a lack of social capital—which. can manifest as the need to cooperate. p.

. This concerns how evenly.basic needs identified by Max-Neef. There are numerous results which confirm the intuitive idea that higher levels of social capital support well-being in general. IV. From our study. On this basis.) Therefore. Regarding two social milieus that are identical in every other aspect. and both physical and mental health in particular. the one that supports higher levels of cooperation might reasonably be expected also to support a higher general level of well-being. one may provisionally require that any meaningful measure of a society’s quality of life include some way of accounting for its social capital—for example. as measured by a survey that asked “the trust question”. however. or trust their neighbors to be fair in their dealings with them. On the other hand. or unevenly. Conclusion As we have noted several times in this report. (Annual income is generally used as a convenient proxy for this wealth. through the Gini coefficient. for almost every supposed benefit of social capital there might seem to correspond some significant drawback. There is however one aspect of social capital—or. and in all four of his basic modalities—could result in the particular kind of pathologies that we subsume within the categories of physical and/or mental illness. . the concept of social capital has an inescapably dual character. it appears very likely that individuals flourish according their ability to draw on their networks for support. more properly. both in individuals and at the community level. it seems indisputable that we should require that assessments of societal quality of life include some provision for taking account the degree of economic inequality within the society—for example. the community’s aggregate wealth is distributed among its members. the consequences of social capital—on which a very strong consensus appears to have emerged regarding its ability to impact well-being.

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