America’s Declining Social Capital
By Robert Putnam
Civically engaged communities (those with high membership in social, political
or religious organizations) produce better schools, faster economic development,
lower crime, and more effective government
Civically engaged communities (those with high membership in social, political or religious organizations) produce better schools, faster economic development, lower crime, and more effective government
Social Capital – features of social organizations create norms, networks, and social trust that facilitates coordination and cooperation
This reserve of social capital allows for communication, coordination, offers examples of successful collaboration, and moves the individual from an “I” viewpoint to a “We” viewpoint.
Concrete benefits: Lower crime rate (neighbors keep an eye out)
Lifetime earnings are higher (contacts)
Greater parental participation is greatest predictor of school success
Mortality declines with group membership
Two kinds of social capital: bonding and bridging
Bonding capital is where you associate with people like you
Bridging capital is where you associate with people unlike you (obviously needed to solve problems within the society)
Putnam argues that both kids of social capital reinforce the other so a decline in bonding capital is a problem for bridging capital.
But we seem to be in a time of social disengagement
Boy Scouts off 26 percent since 1970
Red Cross off 61 percent since 1970
Trust – proportion of Americans who said that most people can be trusted fell from 72 percent in 1974 to 61 percent in 1993 – members of associations are more likely to participate in politics, spend time with neighbors, and express social trust – Americans are still more trusting and engaged than people in most other countries of the world – but those levels are falling and within 25 years we should be close to S. Korea, Belgium, and Estonia
Why is this happening??
More women in the workforce so they have less time and energy to build social capital
Of course men’s joining has declined as well so there are probably bigger causes
Mobility – automobiles and moving often create social disconnectedness – every 10 minutes of commuting time cuts social participation by 10 percent
Television – allows for our individual tastes to be catered to at the expense of opportunities for social-capital formation
Demographic transformations – divorces, fewer marriages, fewer children, replacement of the corner grocery store by the supermarket, replacement of community-based enterprises by multinationals
Mobility (people moving around) – we are actually more stable now than we were in the 1950s and social capital has continued to decline
Economic disparity – Not any larger than other historical periods where there was greater social connectedness
Computers – ownership doesn’t seem to affect declining social connectedness
Rise of special interest groups (NOW, AARP, Sierra Club)
-- but most members interaction is limited to sending a check and reading a
newsletter – But there is no common ground created by members
Support groups – some present opportunity only to talk about self, only the weakest of obligations to each other
Historical note: at the turn of the previous century we also saw a decline in social capital because of migration and urbanization.
- Accompanied by high crime rate, better technology, improvements in standard of living, and complaints about spiritual isolation
Solution then: fixed within 20 years by the creation of major civic organizations – Kiwanis, Elks, Boy Scouts
Criticism of Putnam: doesn't take the Internet into account, we are heading away from a time of exceptional social connectivity so the "decline" is really just a return to normal
Putnam and diversity
In 2007 (based on a 2001 data set), Putnam released a study that found that communities with higher levels of ethnic diversity have lower levels of bridging and bonding social capital (people tend to "turtle up"). So in diverse ethnic communities we find less happiness, fewer close friends, more time watching TV, less trust in government, less likelihood to volunteer, decreased likeliness to vote (but higher levels on interest in politics and participation in protests and social reform groups. Putnam said he delayed publication until he could "develop proposals to compensate for the negative effects of diversity"
Putnam holds out hope that in the long term these communities can create new means of social capital formation (egs of past successes are earlier waves of immigrants in the US and the US military when it desegregated