Social capital

Why this is important: Being socially connected is a critical component of health and well-being. A social network, or the sum of a person’s ties with other people, includes the number, nature and functions of their social interactions and relationships. At an individual level, having meaningful connections with others is among the strongest predictors of happiness.1 Social support—that is, being able to rely on someone you know to listen or to help you with a problem—is associated with a longer life.2 People with high-quality relationships are less likely to develop illnesses and chronic diseases, ranging from the common cold to stroke, cancer and depression.3,4

At a community level, having a sense of cohesion and belonging through built trust, shared goals or resources, and social connections is related to population health and promotes resilience in the face of stressful, traumatic events.5 For example, states or neighborhoods with high social capital have lower rates of infant mortality,6 juvenile delinquency7 and teen pregnancy,8 and greater youth well-being. 9 High social capital at the state level is also associated with lower rates of death by suicide.10 States with high social trust, one of the dimensions of social capital, have lower rates of homicide.11

Conversely, low social capital has negative health consequences. For example, one review found that social isolation and feelings of loneliness were associated with increased risks for all-cause death comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.12 As social interactions and feelings of connectedness within communities may be limited by various factors, such as social media use and social restrictions and isolation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are implications for community health and quality of life.

Definition: Social capital is defined as “the degree of connectedness and the quality and quantity of social relations in a given population”13 that is conducive for health and well-being. People who can get help, information or resources from their social networks and who feel a sense of belonging to a larger group or a community, have more social capital.

In the QoL Survey, social capital was measured using a composite Social Capital score. This score is calculated from residents’ responses to 15 survey questions. These questions capture different individual- and community-level aspects of social capital. Social capital questions included the following:

    • Psychological questions (e.g., feelings of safety, sense of belonging and trust in others)
    • Social questions (e.g., number of close friends)
    • Questions about civic engagement (e.g., volunteering, religious service attendance and interest in politics)

A formula is used to assign a composite score, which ranges between 0 and 1; higher scores close to 1 reflect more, or higher, social capital.

Key Findings: Social Capital 2019 Fact Sheet

Data Source: 1 Diener E, Seligman ME, Choi H, Oishi S. Happiest people revisited. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2018 Mar;13(2):176-84. 2 Yang YC, Boen C, Gerken K, Li T, Schorpp K, Harris KM. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. PNAS. 2016 Jan 19;113(3):578-83. 3 Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D. Can we improve our physical health by altering our social networks?. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2009 Jul;4(4):375-8. 4 Yang YC, Boen C, Gerken K, Li T, Schorpp K, Harris KM. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. PNAS. 2016 Jan 19;113(3):578-83. 5 Aldrich, D. P. (2012). Building resilience: Social capital in post-disaster recovery. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 6 Yang TC, Teng HW, Haran M. The impacts of social capital on infant mortality in the US: A spatial investigation. Applied Spatial Analysis and Policy. 2009 Oct;2(3):211-27. 7 Binik O, Ceretti A, Cornelli R, Schadee H, Verde A, Gatti U. Neighborhood social capital, juvenile delinquency, and victimization: Results from the international self-report delinquency study-3 in 23 countries. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research. 2019 Sep;25(3):241-58. 8 Crosby RA, Holtgrave DR. The protective value of social capital against teen pregnancy: a state-level analysis. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006 May 1;38(5):556-9. 9 Aminzadeh K, Denny S, Utter J, Milfont TL, Ameratunga S, Teevale T, Clark T. Neighbourhood social capital and adolescent self-reported wellbeing in New Zealand: a multilevel analysis. Social Science & Medicine. 2013 May 1;84:13-21.  10 Smith ND, Kawachi I. State-level social capital and suicide mortality in the 50 US states. Social Science & Medicine. 2014 Nov 1;120:269-77. 11 Messner SF, Rosenfeld R, Baumer EP. Dimensions of social capital and rates of criminal homicide. American Sociological Review. 2004 Dec;69(6):882-903.  12 Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stephenson D. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2015 Mar;10(2):227-37.  13 Harpham T, Grant E, Thomas E. Measuring social capital within health surveys: key issues. Health Policy and Planning. 2002;17(1):106-11.