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, 18–34 years and those aged under 65 years with a long-term health condition or disability). The decline in sense of community continued in 2022, with less than half of respondents (44%) agreeing or strongly agreeing that they feel a sense of community with others in their neighbourhood. While most respondents reported having regular face-to-face and/or non-face-to-face contact with family and friends in the 2021 General Social Survey, more than one-quarter of those aged 18 to 24 years indicated in the Canterbury Wellbeing Survey that they felt lonely or isolated most or all of the time in 2022 (27.3% in 2022, up from 22.4% in 2020). A similar proportion of this age group (19%) reported in the 2022 Canterbury Wellbeing Survey that it was hard or very hard to access emotional support. Most survey respondents continue to indicate that they can express their personal identity in New Zealand, reporting that they find it easy or very easy to be themselves. However, the proportion of respondents that find it easy or very easy to be themselves declined statistically significantly from 76.7 percent in 2020 to 67.8 percent in 2022 (down from a high of 80% in 2018). Participation in sports (sports club membership) has increased in recent years, along with increasing participation in the arts since 2011. Finally, the proportion of respondents reporting confidence in local and central government agencies increased between 2018 and 2020 (to a high of 43%) but has declined statistically significantly to 33% in 2022.

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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