Research has begun to show how powerfully social capital, or its absence, affects the well being of individuals, organizations, and nations. Economics studies demonstrate that social capital makes workers more productive, firms more competitive, and nations more prosperous. Psychological research indicates that abundant social capital makes individuals less prone to depression and more inclined to help others. Epidemiological reports show that social capital decreases the rate of suicide, colds, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer, and improves individuals? ability to fight or recover from illnesses once they have struck. Sociology experiments suggest that social capital reduces crime, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, welfare dependency, and drug abuse, and increases student test scores and graduation rates. From political science, we know that extensive social capital makes government agencies more responsive, efficient, and innovative. And from our own personal experience we know that social capital makes navigating life a whole lot easier: our friends and family members cheer us up when we?re down, bring us chicken soup when we?re sick, offer job leads when we?re unemployed, baby–sit our kids when we?re away away, join us at the movies when we?re bored, give us loans when we?re broke, and remember our birthdays when even we forget them.
It is becoming increasingly clear that social capital has an enormous array of practical benefits to individuals and to communities. What is more, social capital has what economists call "positive externalities." That is, networks of trust and reciprocity not only benefit those within them, but also those outside them. Consequently, when social capital is depleted, people suffer in clear and measurable ways, and there is a ripple effect beyond a scattering of lonely individuals. Shoring up our stocks of social capital, therefore, represents one of the most promising approaches for remedying all sorts of social ills.
Yet the national stockpile of social capital has been seriously depleted over the past 30 years. By virtually every measure, today?s Americans are more disconnected from one another and from the institutions of civic life than at any time since statistics have been kept. Whether as family members, neighbors, friends, or citizens, we are tuning out rather than turning out.
Published as: Putnam, Robert D., and Lewis M. Feldstein. Better Together: Restoring the American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.