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Social capital and health – implications for health promotion

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      Abstract

      This article is a review of the PhD Thesis of Malin Eriksson, entitled ‘Social capital, health and community action – implications for health promotion.’ The article presents a theoretical overview of social capital and its relation to health, reviews empirical findings of the links between social capital and (self-rated) health, and discusses the usefulness of social capital in health promotion interventions at individual and community levels. Social capital, conceptualized as an individual characteristic, can contribute to the field of health promotion by adding new knowledge on how social network interventions may best be designed to meet the needs of the target group. The distinction of different forms of social capital, i.e. bonding, bridging, and linking, can be useful in mapping the kinds of networks that are available and health-enhancing (or damaging) and for whom. Further, social capital can advance social network interventions by acknowledging the risk for unequal distribution of investments and returns from social network involvement. Social capital, conceptualized as characterizing whole communities, provides a useful framework for what constitutes health-supporting environments and guidance on how to achieve them. Mapping and mobilization of social capital in local communities may be one way of achieving community action for health promotion. Social capital is context-bound by necessity. Thus, from a global perspective, it cannot be used as a ‘cookbook’ on how to achieve supportive environments and community action smoothly. However, social capital can provide new ideas on the processes that influence human interactions, cooperation, and community action for health promotion in various contexts.

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      Most cited references 72

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      Social ties and mental health.

      It is generally agreed that social ties play a beneficial role in the maintenance of psychological well-being. In this targeted review, we highlight four sets of insights that emerge from the literature on social ties and mental health outcomes (defined as stress reactions, psychological well-being, and psychological distress, including depressive symptoms and anxiety). First, the pathways by which social networks and social supports influence mental health can be described by two alternative (although not mutually exclusive) causal models-the main effect model and the stress-buffering model. Second, the protective effects of social ties on mental health are not uniform across groups in society. Gender differences in support derived from social network participation may partly account for the higher prevalence of psychological distress among women compared to men. Social connections may paradoxically increase levels of mental illness symptoms among women with low resources, especially if such connections entail role strain associated with obligations to provide social support to others. Third, egocentric networks are nested within a broader structure of social relationships. The notion of social capital embraces the embeddedness of individual social ties within the broader social structure. Fourth, despite some successes reported in social support interventions to enhance mental health, further work is needed to deepen our understanding of the design, timing, and dose of interventions that work, as well as the characteristics of individuals who benefit the most.
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        Health by association? Social capital, social theory, and the political economy of public health.

        Three perspectives on the efficacy of social capital have been explored in the public health literature. A "social support" perspective argues that informal networks are central to objective and subjective welfare; an "inequality" thesis posits that widening economic disparities have eroded citizens' sense of social justice and inclusion, which in turn has led to heightened anxiety and compromised rising life expectancies; a "political economy" approach sees the primary determinant of poor health outcomes as the socially and politically mediated exclusion from material resources. A more comprehensive but grounded theory of social capital is presented that develops a distinction between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. It is argued that this framework helps to reconcile these three perspectives, incorporating a broader reading of history, politics, and the empirical evidence regarding the mechanisms connecting types of network structure and state-society relations to public health outcomes.
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          Social capital, income inequality, and mortality.

          Recent studies have demonstrated that income inequality is related to mortality rates. It was hypothesized, in this study, that income inequality is related to reduction in social cohesion and that disinvestment in social capital is in turn associated with increased mortality. In this cross-sectional ecologic study based on data from 39 states, social capital was measured by weighted responses to two items from the General Social Survey: per capita density of membership in voluntary groups in each state and level of social trust, as gauged by the proportion of residents in each state who believed that people could be trusted. Age-standardized total and cause-specific mortality rates in 1990 were obtained for each state. Income inequality was strongly correlated with both per capita group membership (r = -.46) and lack of social trust (r = .76). In turn, both social trust and group membership were associated with total mortality, as well as rates of death from coronary heart disease, malignant neoplasms, and infant mortality. These data support the notion that income inequality leads to increased mortality via disinvestment in social capital.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
            [2 ]Department of Social Work, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
            Author notes
            [* ] Malin Eriksson, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Epidemiology and Global Health, Department of Social Work, Umeå University, SE-901 85 Umeå, Sweden. Tel: +46 (0) 90 785 3346. Fax: +46 (0) 90 13 8977. Email: malin.eriksson@ 123456socw.umu.se , malin.eriksson@ 123456epiph.umu.se
            Journal
            Glob Health Action
            GHA
            Global Health Action
            CoAction Publishing
            1654-9716
            1654-9880
            08 February 2011
            2011
            : 4
            3036711
            21311607
            GHA-4-5611
            10.3402/gha.v4i0.5611
            © 2011 Malin Eriksson

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License, permitting all non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Categories
            PhD REVIEW

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