A multilevel analysis of social capital and self-reported health: evidence from Seoul, South Korea

Sehee Han, Heaseung Kim, Hee-Sun Lee
International Journal for Equity in Health 2012, 11: 3

BACKGROUND: This study aims to resolve two limitations of previous studies. First, as only a few studies examining social capital have been conducted in non-western countries, it is inconclusive that the concept, which has been developed in Western societies, applies similarly to an Asian context. Second, this study considers social capital at the individual-level, area-level and cross-levels of interaction and examines its associations with health while simultaneously controlling for various confounders at both the individual-level and area-level, whereas previous studies only considered one of the two levels. The purpose of this study is therefore to examine the associations between social capital and health by using multilevel analysis after controlling for various confounders both at the individual and area-levels (i.e., concentrated disadvantage) in non-western countries.

METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional survey from December 2010 to April 2011 in Seoul, South Korea. The target population included respondents aged 25 years and older who have resided in the same administrative area since 2008. The final sample for this study consisted of 4,730 respondents within all 25 of Seoul's administrative areas.

RESULTS: In our final model, individual-level social capital, including network sources (OR = 1.23; 95% CI = 1.11-1.37) and organizational participation (OR = 2.55; 95% CI = 2.11-3.08) was positively associated with good/very good health. Interestingly, the individual × area organizational participation cross-level interaction was negatively associated with good/very good health (OR = 0.40; 95% CI = 0.32-0.50), indicating that in areas with higher organizational participation, individuals with high organizational participation were less likely to report good/very good health when compared to low organizational participation individuals.

CONCLUSION: Our study provides evidence that individual-level social capital is associated with self-reported health, even after controlling for both individual and area-level confounders. Although this study did not find significant relationships between area-level organizational participation and self-reported health, this study found the cross-level interaction for social capital. Hence, in areas with lower organizational participation, the probability of reporting good/very good health is higher for individuals with high organizational participation than individuals with low organizational participation. This study, albeit tentatively, suggests that policy makers should focus upon social capital when making policies which aim to enhance one's health.

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