Skip to content


CSI 15: the uneven distribution and decline of social capital in Britain


Publication date

Nov 2015


Social capital is often seen as providing advantages for the individual members of the relevant network (for example in facilitating access to better jobs). But it may also have wider social benefits, for example; by providing social support for those in need; or by fostering social trust (which can reduce ‘transaction costs’ in many spheres of life) and might thus be a wider ‘public good’.  More generally, social connections are closely associated with people’s subjective sense of well-being. Given these societal and individual benefits, it is important to consider the distribution of social capital among different groups in society and whether we are levels of social capital are declining. Do we still get involved with the community and volunteer? Is there any evidence to suggest that we are becoming lonelier and less trusting over time?
Our first report, published in March 2015, concentrates on the question of decline CSI 8: Are we getting lonelier and less civic?
This second report, new in November 2015, extends these finding to cover more detail about types of social capital and the way it is unevenly distributed throughout society CSI 15: The uneven distribution and decline of social capital in Britain
1) Social Capital is “multidimensional” and comes in different types and combinations. It is usual for individuals to have high levels by some measures, but low on others.
2) Isolation - that is being low on all indicators of social capital - is a rare state, although our data may underestimate the true extent of social isolation.
3) The ‘civic forms’ of social capital (social trust) are not in decline as far as we can see. It is stronger in Scotland and NI, weakest in London. It is also weaker among some ethnic minorities and among the less educated.
4) Voluntary associations (an ‘instrumental form’ of social capital) are in long-term decline. This form is quite unequally divided, especially along socio-economic (educational) lines. Over time, it appears that these gaps are widening. Those with lower level qualifications are dropping out of voluntary associations faster than those with a degree, as are ethnic minority groups compared to whites.
5) Social support, the quality of informal relationships is not in decline. Some groups in society, including the well-educated and ethnic minorities may be experiencing small increases to their social support; others, including white men and those with low qualifications, are being left behind.


Social Networks, Education, Ethnic Groups, Societies, and Social Capital



Research home

Research home


Latest findings, new research

Publications search

Search all research by subject and author


Researchers discuss their findings and what they mean for society


Background and context, methods and data, aims and outputs


Conferences, seminars and workshops

Survey methodology

Specialist research, practice and study

Taking the long view

ISER's annual report


Key research themes and areas of interest