Social Capital and Health

Over the past 25 years, researchers have been looking closely at the potency of social capital on health and happiness. Study after study has concluded that the more social capital an individual has, the fewer sick days and sad days he or she experiences. A 1979 study by Berkman and Syme, done in Alameda County, CA, found that healthy adults who were more socially integrated with deeper forms of social capital, such as husbands/wives/partners, as well as with close friends and associates, were more likely to still be living nine years post-study than others who were less connected.

Twenty-five years later (2005), Berkman and Glass found that when there is more social capital present, there is greater survival rate from heart attacks, less risk for cancer recurrence, less depression/anxiety, and less severe cognitive decline with aging.

Similar studies over the same time-frames found that social capital predicts who is resistant to illness. Going even further, the literature suggests social isolation (the lack of social capital) actually causes illness. To this very same point, Dr. Sheldon Cohen, of CMU in Pittsburgh, has examined the effects of social capital on health - and his findings are clear - social capital actually prevents illness! This was documented in a series of carefully controlled experiments where he exposed subjects to the virus that causes the common cold. The study demonstrated that those with more social capital, in terms of supported relationships and sociability, were significantly less likely to catch a cold.

So as we struggle to promote better health, the lesson seems simple - the more social capital a person has the more likely they are to be healthy. What do you think?