JOURNAL ARTICLE

Social capital and self-rated health—a study of temporal (causal) relationships

Giuseppe Nicola Giordano, Jonas Björk, Martin Lindström
Social Science & Medicine 2012, 75 (2): 340-8
22537483
Despite the vast amount of research over the past fifteen years, there is still lively debate surrounding the role of social capital on individual health outcomes. This seems to stem from a lack of consistency regarding the definition, measurement and plausible theories linking this contextual phenomenon to health. We have further identified a knowledge gap within this field - a distinct lack of research investigating temporal relationships between social capital and health outcomes. To remedy this shortfall, we use four waves of the British Household Panel Survey to follow the same individuals (N = 8114) between years 2000 and 2007. We investigate temporal relationships and association between our outcome variable self-rated health (SRH) and time-lagged explanatory variables, including three individual-level social capital proxies and other well-known health determinants. Our results suggest that levels of the social capital proxy 'generalised trust' at time point (t - 1) are positively associated with SRH at subsequent time point (t), even after taking into consideration levels of other well-known health determinants (such as smoking status) at time point (t - 1). That we investigate temporal relationships at four separate occasions over the seven-year period lends considerable weight to our results and the argument that generalised trust is an independent predictor of individual health. However, lack of consensus across a variety of disciplines as to what generalised trust is believed to measure creates ambiguity when attempting to identify possible pathways from higher trust to better health.

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