CSI 8: social capital – are we becoming lonelier and less civic?
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?
1) Contrary to some descriptions of our time as ‘the age of loneliness’, supportive informal relationships have not in fact declined over the last two decades.
2) However, having ‘someone to discuss personal matters with’ is much less likely among the over 75s, those with less education, and those outside the labour market. More generally, social capital is unequally distributed along the lines of ethnicity, age, education and economic activity
3) The trend in volunteering has been broadly flat over the last decade but with a visible ‘Olympics effect’. Post-Olympics, volunteering returned to its previous level.
4) Activity with voluntary organisations (or ‘civic participation’) appears to be in long-term slow decline; the Olympics may have also exerted a rejuvenating influence here, but a temporary one.
5) Activity with voluntary organisations relating specifically to the local community or neighbourhood is in decline, falling from 11.5% to 7.8% over the last decade.
6) There is some evidence that the ethnic gap in civic participation may be widening although the age gap has remained the same over time.
The 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