Social Capital

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Social capital includes those features of society such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve and strengthen society by enabling coordinated actions [1,2]. Social capital is important because it is linked to individual and community health and wellbeing via a range of processes between people. These processes facilitate cooperation and efficiency for mutual benefit [2-5].

Trust in agencies, participation in local organisations (including volunteering), and social connection or isolation are among the most commonly used indicators of social capital [5]. Social capital is significantly associated with many community- and individual-level outcomes, such as education, crime, child welfare, health and wellbeing, and the total mortality rate (although correlation does not establish causation) [1,2,6].

Social capital is an important component of a strengths-based approach, which identifies the protective and promoting factors that improve health and wellbeing.

Key trends within the social capital

The results seen across the range of indicators for social capital, for greater Christchurch, over the last five to seven years, are mixed. The proportion of greater Christchurch respondents who indicate feeling a sense of community has been in decline since first measured in the Canterbury Wellbeing Survey in late 2012 (especially so for young people, 18–24 years). However, the decline in sense of community appears to have plateaued in recent years, at just below fifty percent of respondents. While most respondents reported having regular face-to-face and/or non-face-to-face contact with family and friends in the 2016 General Social Survey, a significant minority (15%) of young people (18–24 years) indicated that they felt lonely or isolated most or all of the time (in the Canterbury Wellbeing Survey 2017 and 2018). On the positive side, most respondents indicated that they can express their personal identity in New Zealand, reporting that they find it easy or very easy to be themselves. Finally, participation in sports has increased since late 2012, along with increasing attendance and participation in the arts.

Key equity issues within social capital

A number of differences are apparent across the social capital indicators, notably: sense of community, personal identity, loneliness and isolation, and confidence in agencies. Age (particularly the youngest and oldest age groups), having a long-term health condition or disability, and identifying as belonging to certain ethnic groups, appear to be related to lower levels of social capital in greater Christchurch. 

What this means for wellbeing

Social capital covers many aspects of community, and all are concerned with the quality and characteristics of human relationships. Generally, the pattern of results for the social capital indicators for greater Christchurch appears supportive of individual and community wellbeing across greater Christchurch, however, some areas of concern are apparent.


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