Social Capital & Health

Public health researchers have identified ways that social capital has a positive impact on health. As early as 1984, the epidemiologist Lisa Berkman posited that strong interpersonal networks improve health in four ways:

    1. By providing advice, services, and new social contacts, networks can help individuals obtain better medical care than others.
    2. Some networks may provide other services outside of medical care, such as direct aid or economic assistance, that can affect health and well-being.
    3. Tighter networks may follow patterns exhibited by their peers, influencing healthy behaviors.
    4. People who have relationships that provide intimacy, belonging, and nurturance are less likely to become physiologically stressed and susceptible to illness.

Social Capital & Health Inequities

In a 2013 review of studies of social capital and health inequalities (Uphoff et al. 2013), researchers found:

    1. Individuals with lower socioeconomic status had lower levels of social capital, which is associated with worse health outcomes.
    2. Disadvantaged groups or people have more difficulty building and utilizing social capital.
    3. Social capital can mitigate some of the negative effects of low socioeconomic status on health. These findings are supported by research on ethnic enclaves, which have better health outcomes than expected based on socioeconomic status.
    4. There may be harmful health effects for disadvantaged individuals who are excluded from communities for economic reasons (i.e., low-income mothers in a high-income neighborhood).


A commonly used measure of social capital is the Rupasingha, Goetz, and Freshwater Index (also known as the RGFI or the Penn State University Social Capital Index; Rupasingha, Goetz, & Freshwater, 2000). The RGFI is a county-level measure of social capital with a well-documented relationship to a range of community health indicators. 

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