How Much Social Capital Do You Have?by Melissa E. Malka, BSc | November 29, 2008
If you were starting a business, you’d hope to acquire as much capital as you could: property, relevant tools, employees, and so on. As individuals, we strive to improve our human capital, or our economic value. We earn college degrees, take continuing education courses, attempt to expand our knowledge and master our respective fields. The more we know, the more we’re worth and it makes perfect sense (and boosts our pay!).
Yet, perhaps more attention should be paid to the value of social capital. A concept with several definitions and applications in practically every field, social capital for our purposes can be defined as
the quantity and quality of social relationships such as formal and informal social connections as well as norms of reciprocity and trust that exist in a place of community.
Social capital extends to more than just the number of friendships or professional relationships a person can maintain, it’s more to do with how well you can access or employ those connections to benefit yourself (and others).
Dr. Ching-Hsing of Chang Gung Institute of Technology, Taiwan, compiled data from several published articles discussing the concept of social capital and its implication in both individual and community health. As an individual, there is a positive relationship between our social capital and our physical and emotional health, and the inverse also applies. But, social capital doesn’t just refer to individuals, it can apply to communities, towns, and cities. The concept itself is difficult to quantitatively measure. Calculating the number of members involved in voluntary work within a society is one aspect that can be measured but it’s not a tell-all.
The key to social capital is reciprocity, and how much mutual assistance can be expected. In interpersonal relationships between friends, colleagues, and groups in a community, the better the social capital, the better the health of the environment, the community, and the people who reside in it.
Good social capital isn’t all good; I’m sure that several widely supported social movements that didn’t necessarily contribute anything good to society can come to mind. Gangs, organized crime, Hitler: great social support, not-so-great intentions.
In terms of an individual, it’s hard to calculate our own social capital and find ways to improve it. Some of us may have been born into a better situation or earned our social capital through high-ranking positions at prestigious organizations. Others may have had to give a lot before they could start reaping the benefits of reciprocity.
Social capital can be a powerful asset though, for individuals, businesses, and communities alike. It’s networking to the next level and the ability not to be heard, but to be valued. And, its yet another component that affects our health. In my opinion, I’d say emotional more so than physical, but I’m not certain I have enough social capital on this blog yet.
Anne W Taylor, Carmel Williams, Eleonora Dal Grande, Michelle Herriot (2006). Measuring social capital in a known disadvantaged urban community – health policy implications Australia and New Zealand Health Policy, 3 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1743-8462-3-2
S Subramanian (2003). Neighborhood differences in social capital: a compositional artifact or a contextual construct? Health & Place, 9 (1), 33-44 DOI: 10.1016/S1353-8292(02)00028-X
Ching-Hsing Hsieh (2008). A Concept Analysis of Social Capital Within a Health Context Nursing Forum, 43 (3), 151-159 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-6198.2008.00107.x
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