Individual-level relationships between social capital and self-rated health in a bilingual community

M T Hyyppä, J Mäki
Preventive Medicine 2001, 32 (2): 148-55

BACKGROUND: Previous register studies have shown that mortality rates and disability pension statistics favor Swedish-speakers when compared to their Finnish-speaking neighbors in the same bilingual region in Finland. The purpose of the present questionnaire survey was to determine whether the Swedish-speaking community has more social capital and if the social capital is associated with health at the individual level.

METHODS: The study population consisted of randomly selected samples of Finnish-speakers (N 1,000, response rate 66%) and Swedish-speakers (N 1,000, response rate 63%) representing all adults living in bilingual Ostrobothnian municipalities (75,000 Finnish-speakers and 78,000 Swedish-speakers). To inquire into social capital and health indicators, a bilingual questionnaire was composed to cover variables and indicators of sociodemography, health status, health behavior, and social capital (interpersonal trust and civic engagement). Data were analyzed with multiple logistic regression for two binary outcome variables: language group (Finnish vs Swedish) and self-rated health (good vs almost good/fair/poor/bad).

RESULTS: When health-related variables (urban residence, migration, age, BMI, household income, smoking, singing in a choir, membership in any voluntary association, participation in community events, and long-term diseases) were controlled for, the Finnish-speakers were more often migrated (P = 0.0001) and mistrusting (P = 0.0001) and less active in community events (P = 0.0016) and in singing in a choir (P = 0.02) than the Swedish-speakers. After controlling for language and the above-mentioned health-related variables, the number of auxiliary (willing to help) friends (P = 0.001), mistrust (P = 0.037), and membership in any religious association (P = 0.0096) were significantly and independently associated with good self-rated health in the whole sample.

CONCLUSIONS: The Swedish-speaking community seems to hold a fair quantity of social capital, which is associated with good health. Since the ecological and socioeconomic circumstances are equal for both language communities, a great deal of health inequality can be explained by differences in social capital.

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