1.1 The purpose of this report is to explore whether different groups in society experience different levels of social capital. Does where you live affect the strength of your social networks? Are older or younger people more likely to benefit from having strong links with other people in their community? And are people who are already socio-economically disadvantaged further disadvantaged by having lower levels of social capital and therefore fewer resources to draw upon? It draws on data from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) 20091 and the Scottish Household survey (SHS) 2010.
What is 'social capital'?
1.2 The concept of 'social capital' provides a framework for exploring a variety of individual and community-based assets which researchers and activists have argued can improve people's lives through creating resilience, building trust and improving physical and mental wellbeing.2 Indeed, research evidence shows that high levels of social capital are associated with a range of positive outcomes for individuals and/or communities including better health and wellbeing, lower crime rates and higher educational achievement.3 Although there are many different definitions of social capital, and different theoretical approaches underpinning these definitions, all of them centre around the importance of networks. For example, Robert Putnam (1996 and 2000) defines social capital as 'networks, norms, and trust that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives' and describes some of its benefits as 'mutual support, cooperation, trust, institutional effectiveness'.4 The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has adopted the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definition for their work on social capital. This definition is similar to Putnam's and again highlights the role of networks as well as the importance of shared values and understandings:
"Networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups" (Cote and Healy, 2001:41)
1.3 For some, such as Lin and Bourdieu, informal personal social networks are central to social capital, while others (for example, Putnam's early work) focus more on the role of formal networks.5 A further refinement of this definition makes a distinction between bonding, bridging and linking social capital. Woolcock describes bonding social capital as relationships or networks between people in similar situations (for example, between family and close friends). In contrast, bridging social capital is formed between people with relatively more distant ties, such as work colleagues. Finally, linking social capital describes links formed with people outwith your own communities, or between people at different levels of a power hierarchy (for example, between an individual and a service provider - see Field, 2003 and Harper, 2002).
Why does social capital matter?
1.4 Policy makers in the UK have become increasingly interested in social capital and how it might be enhanced in recent years. In Scotland, strong, resilient communities are central to many of the Scottish Government's key strategic objectives and national outcomes. For example, the strategic objective to 'Help local communities to flourish, becoming stronger, safer places to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life' (Safer and Stronger) reflects assumptions from social capital theory that if individuals and communities are supported to build their own capacities and networks this will lead to improvements in wellbeing.
1.5 In relation to health policy in particular, there has been growing interest in understanding how an 'assets-based' approach might help address some of Scotland's long-standing health problems and inequalities. The Chief Medical Officer's most recent annual report (2011) describes the assets-based approach as involving 'helping people to be in control of their lives by developing the capacities and capabilities of individuals and communities'. It highlights the 'recognition of social capital (the connections within and between social networks) and its importance as an asset' in discussing Area Based Community Development as an approach that could be applied to improve health and wellbeing.
1.6 Meanwhile, the Christie Commission report on the future delivery of public services (2011) has also argued that 'building personal and community capacity, resilience and autonomy' should be a key objective of future public service reform. Engaging individuals and communities in decisions about services is seen in the Scottish Government's response to that report - Renewing Scotland's Public Services - as key if public services are to become both more efficient and more effective at meeting people's needs. And arguably such 'co-production' of services can only be achieved if individuals and communities engage both with each other and with service providers - in other words, it relies on social capital.
1.7 This paper is an attempt to provide a greater empirical understanding of the social capital assets of different groups in Scottish society. Understanding the distribution of social capital may help policy makers develop further strategies to support the development of strong, resilient communities and individuals.
Social capital - an attribute of individuals, groups or places?
1.8 While social capital is usually discussed within the context of communities, as something that relies on the existence of links, networks and trust between people, it is arguably the case that some kinds of social capital - like a willingness to trust other people or perceptions of the local area - are also attributes of individuals. In practice, attributes associated with individuals, groups of people and places may all contribute to forming social capital. This report uses individual level data from a survey to explore social capital, though the questions used may be tapping a combination of group, place and individual attributes. The precise ways in which these interact are not always obvious - for example, a person's perception of how often they regularly stop and speak to people in their area may be influenced by how often other people speak to them, by physical features of their local area, and by their own personal willingness or need to stop and speak to others. In interpreting the findings in this report, it is important to bear these potential interactions in mind - work to increase social capital may require a clearer understanding of the interactions between individuals, groups and places in supporting or maintaining particular kinds of asset.
Email: Linzie Liddell
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