Social capital refers to collective features of social structure, such as networks, participation and trust. They facilitate interaction between people, and intensify the attainment of collective and individual goals and economic activity. The concept is based on the view that besides physical and human capital, the economic development, well-being and performance of societies is also influenced by the social environment.
The concept of social capital transcends conventional boundaries of science by bringing together representatives of different disciplines and has attracted large international attention. Statistics production and measurement of social capital has been an object of interest in both national statistical offices (United Kingdom, Canada, Australia) and in international organisations (World Bank, OECD). Statistics Finland has published Social Capital in Finland - Statistical Review, which is the first statistical overview on the topic in Finland.
Social capital is often used to explain the success and well-being of societies, communities or individuals. One of the key aspects of the concept and related research is that social capital is thought to have some outcome, that social capital has an impact and influence on something. Examples of the outcomes of social capital include improved public administration and democracy and greater well-being in society, improved health, or economic growth and efficiency. In Finland, Petri Ruuskanen (2001) has proposed a distinction between the sources, mechanisms and outcomes of social capital, stressing the importance of keeping these dimensions apart in the measurement of social capital. This distinction is illustrated in the following Figure:
Sources, mechanisms and outcomes of social capital according to Ruuskanen's presentation.
Source: Ruuskanen 2001.
The sources of social capital are considered separately at three different levels, i.e. the individual, community and society. The mechanisms of social capital, trust and communication, facilitate the flow of information from one individual to another and make it easier for people to maintain contact with one another. According to Ruuskanen both the sources and the outcomes of social capital are apparently context-dependent, whereas its mechanisms seem to work in the same way across different contexts.
Last updated 25.9.2006