JOURNAL ARTICLE

Social capital and change in psychological health over time

Giuseppe Nicola Giordano, Martin Lindström
Social Science & Medicine 2011, 72 (8): 1219-27
21440347
The positive association between social capital and general health outcomes has been extensively researched over the past decade; however, studies investigating social capital and psychological health show less consistent results. Despite this, policy-makers worldwide still employ elements of social capital to promote and improve psychological health. This United Kingdom study investigates the association between changes in psychological health over time and three different individual-level proxies of social capital, measures of socio-economic status, social support and the confounders age and gender. All data are derived from the British Household Panel Survey data, with the same individuals (N = 7994) providing responses from 2000-2007. The data were split according to baseline psychological health status ('Good' or 'Poor' psychological health - the dependent variable). Using Generalised Estimating Equations, two separate models were built to investigate the association between changes from baseline psychological health over time and considered variables. An autoregressive working correlation structure was employed to derive the true influence of explanatory variables on psychological health outcomes over time. We found that generalised trust was the only social capital variable to maintain a positive and highly significant association with psychological health in multivariable models. All measures of socioeconomic status and social support were rendered insignificant, bar one. We therefore argue that the breakdown of the traditional family unit (and subsequent reduction in family capital investment), along with psychosocial pathways, demonstrate plausible mechanisms by which a decrease in generalised trust could lead to an increasing trend of worse psychological health in youth over successive birth cohorts. Policy makers, while providing welfare solutions in response to breakdown in traditional family structure, must also consider perverse incentives they provide. If perceived as a viable lifestyle choice, welfare provision could inadvertently promote further decline of trust, at even greater cost to society.

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