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How is Social Capital Measured?



Quantitative studies

Comparative studies

Qualitative studies
Social capital has been measured in a number of innovative ways, though for a number of reasons obtaining a single "true" measure is probably not possible, or perhaps even desirable. First, the most comprehensive definitions of social capital are multidimensional, incorporating different levels and units of analysis. Second, any attempt to measure the properties of inherently ambiguous concepts such as "community", "network" and "organization" is correspondingly problematic. Third, few long-standing surveys were designed to measure "social capital", leaving contemporary researchers to compile indexes from a range of approximate items, such as measures of trust in government, voting trends, memberships in civic organizations, hours spent volunteering. New surveys currently being tested will hopefully produce more direct and accurate indicators.

Measuring social capital may be difficult, but it is not impossible, and several excellent studies have identified useful proxies for social capital, using different types and combinations of qualitative, comparative and quantitative research methodologies.

Quantitative Studies

Knack and Keefer (1997) use indicators of trust and civic norms from the World Values Survey for a sample of 29 market economies. They use these measures as proxies for the strength of civic associations in order to test two different propositions on the effects of social capital on economic growth, the "Olson effects" (associations stifle growth through rent-seeking) and "Putnam effects" (associations facilitate growth by increasing trust). (Inglehart (1997) has done the most extensive work on the implications of the WVS’s results for general theories of modernization and development.)

Narayan and Pritchett (1997) construct a measure of social capital in rural Tanzania, using data from the Tanzania Social Capital and Poverty Survey (SCPS). This large-scale survey asked individuals about the extent and characteristics of their associational activity, and their trust in various institutions and individuals. They match this measure of social capital with data on household income in the same villages (both from the SCPS and from an earlier household survey, the Human Resources Development Survey). They find that village-level social capital raises household incomes.

Temple and Johnson (1998), extending the earlier work of Adelman and Morris (1967), use ethnic diversity, social mobility, and the prevalence of telephone services in several sub-Saharan African countries as proxies for the density of social networks. They combine several related items into an index of "social capability", and show that this can explain significant amounts of variation in national economic growth rates.

Comparative Studies

In his research comparing north and south Italy, Putnam (1993) examines social capital in terms of the degree of civic involvement, as measured by voter turnout, newspaper readership, membership in choral societies and football clubs, and confidence in public institutions. Northern Italy, where all these indicators are higher, shows significantly improved rates of governance, institutional performance, and development when other orthodox factors were controlled for. His recent work on the United States (Putnam 1995, 1998) uses a similar approach, combining data from both academic and commercial sources to show a persistent long-term decline in America’s stock of social capital. Putnam validates data from various sources against the findings of the General Social Survey, widely recognized as one of the most reliable surveys of American social life.

Portes (1995) and Light and Karageorgis (1994) examine the economic well-being of different immigrant communities to the United States. They show that certain groups (e.g. Koreans in Los Angeles, Chinese in San Francisco) do better than others (e.g. Mexicans in San Diego, Dominicans in New York) because of the social structure of the communities into which new immigrants arrive. Successful communities are able to offer new arrivals help with securing informal sources of credit, insurance, child support, English language training, and job referrals. Less successful communities display a short-term commitment to their host country, and are less able to provide their members with important services.

Massey and Espinosa (1997) examine Mexican immigration to the US. They show that policies such as NAFTA, which advocate the free flow of goods and services across national borders, also increase the flow of people, since goods and services are produced, distributed, and consumed by people. Using survey and interview data, they show that a theory of social capital is a far better predictor of where people will migrate, in what numbers, and for what reasons, than are neo-classical and human capital theories. These results are then used as the basis for proposing a number of innovative policy measures designed to produce a fairer and more effective management of Mexican immigration to the US.

Qualitative Studies

Portes and Sensenbrenner (1993) examine what happens to immigrant communities when some of their members succeed economically, and wish to leave the community. Their interviews reveal the pressures that strong community ties can place on members; so strong are these ties that some members have Anglicized their names to free themselves of the obligations associated with community membership. Gold (1995) provides evidence that Jewish communities in Los Angeles manage to maintain both the integrity of their community structure and participate more fully in mainstream economic life.

Fernandez-Kelley (1996) interviewed and observed young girls in urban ghetto communities in Baltimore, and discovered that normative pressures to leave school, have a baby while still a teenager, and reject formal employment were very powerful. Surrounded on a daily basis by violence, unemployment, and drug addicts, the girls’ only way of establishing their identity and status was through their bodies. Anderson (1995) studied the role of "old heads," long-term elderly members of the poor urban African-American community, as sources of social capital. "Old heads" once provided wisdom and guidance to the young, but their advice and input today is being increasingly ignored as respect for the elderly declines, and as the community continues to fragment economically.

Heller (1996) examines the case of the south Indian state of Kerala, where literacy rates, longevity, and infant mortality rates have long been the most favorable on the sub-continent. Tracing the history of state-society relations in Kerala, Heller shows how the state has played a crucial role in bringing about these results, by creating the conditions that enabled subordinate social groups to organize in their collective interest. However, the state in Kerala has also been hostile to foreign investment and the maintenance of infrastructure, which has made it difficult for a healthy and well-educated population to transfer its human capital into greater economic prosperity.

Measuring Social Capital:
 Why measure social capital? How is social capital measured?
 When measure social capital? Measurement tools

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