Social Capital

Social capital refers to the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society or community, enabling the society to function effectively. Interconnected community relationships provide individuals with resources, support, and opportunities for economic empowerment and social mobility. Social capital encompasses the connections, trust, norms, and networks facilitating collaboration among individuals and groups. Social capital can contribute to positive outcomes, like enhanced financial health, educational attainment, and overall well-being. 

Research indicates that strong interpersonal networks not only facilitate access to better medical care and support services but also encourage healthier behaviors and reduce physiological stress, ultimately leading to improved community health outcomes. By recognizing the benefits of social connections on well-being, practitioners can develop strategies that promote social cohesion, address disparities, and foster equitable environments while fostering belonging and civic muscle, and ultimately an equitable distribution of social capital. 

Understanding and harnessing the power of social capital not only promises significant payoffs in community resilience and improved health outcomes, but also wields an unparalleled influence. However, it's crucial to acknowledge that solely augmenting social capital within certain segments of the population, leading to inequitable distributions, falls short of being truly beneficial. Therefore, our efforts must be directed towards both expanding overall social capital and diminishing disparities. The impacts of social capital reverberate far beyond immediate communities, permeating societal structures and individual lives with profound implications for global well-being. 

It is essential to address the creation and destruction of social capital. Factors such as racism and economic oppression hinder its growth and impede development of robust social networks, limiting the potential for community cohesion and collective action. Low-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups face disparities in access to social capital, which can exacerbate existing inequalities and hinder their ability to access resources, opportunities, and support networks. This lack of access to social capital can further perpetuate cycles of poverty, limit educational and employment prospects, and exacerbate health disparities within these communities.

As our understanding of social capital and its profound impact on health expands, so does the potential for catalyzing transformative changes in community well-being. Increasingly, there is a call to prioritize and integrate social capital into community development initiatives. For instance, initiatives aimed at reducing health disparities can focus on building trust and social networks within marginalized communities, fostering a supportive environment for health promotion and equitable access to resources.

Building social capital can reap benefits in all communities, but focusing interventions in communities where social capital is low is an ethical imperative that can have big payoffs in terms of health and well-being. 

Improving social capital is a systems strategy to improve health and well-being. Through policy and investment, changemakers can fundamentally address drivers of health and well-being at scale. At a local level, changemakers can create opportunities for connection and collaboration, support local initiatives, promote civic engagement, address social inequities, and foster trust and reciprocity within the community. They have a role in spearheading community organizing efforts focused on addressing local issues and priorities. By advocating for and co-leading public decision-making processes, changemakers empower community members to actively shape their own destinies. Moreover, they serve as vital conduits, providing indispensable community resources such as community health worker programs and social services, ensuring equitable access to support systems that underpin collective well-being.

Resources & Tools

Screen capture of Family and Social Support
Family and Social Support
Resource - Website/webpage
First page of The Measurement of Social Capital in America: A Reassessment journal article
The Measurement of Social Capital in America: A Reassessment
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Springer
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What is Social Capital?
Resource - Blog
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Community Development Counteracts Isolation
Resource - Fact Sheet
Brought to you by Build Healthy Places Network
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Community Cultural Wealth
Resource - Fact Sheet
Screen capture of Resources for Social Connection — Current Priorities of the U.S. Surgeon General webpage
Resources for Social Connection — Current Priorities of the U.S. Surgeon General
Resource - Data Bank/repository
Brought to you by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Public art on a seating space. One seat has text painted on it that reads
Belonging and Civic Muscle During COVID-19
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Colorful hands reaching out Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
How Does Our Sense of Belonging Shape our Mental Health?
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Screen capture of City Life Is Too Lonely. Urban Planning Can Help. article
City Life Is Too Lonely. Urban Planning Can Help.
Story - Written
Brought to you by Bloomberg L.P.
Published on 12/14/2023
Screen capture of It’s National Good Neighbor Day. Do You Know Who Yours Are?
It’s National Good Neighbor Day. Do You Know Who Yours Are?
Story - Written
Brought to you by Deseret News Publishing Company
Published on 09/27/2022