Investigating the relationship between self-rated health and social capital in South Africa: a multilevel panel data analysis

Yan Kwan Lau, John E Ataguba
BMC Public Health 2015, 15: 266

BACKGROUND: The relationship between social capital and self-rated health has been documented in many developed compared to developing countries. Because social capital and health play important roles in development, it may be valuable to study their relationship in the context of a developing country with poorer health status. Further, the role of social capital research for health policy has not received much attention. This paper therefore examines the relationship between social capital and health in South Africa, a country with the history of colonialism and apartheid that has contributed to the social disintegration and destruction of social capital.

METHODS: This study uses data from the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), the first nationally representative panel study in South Africa. Two waves of the NIDS were used in this paper--Wave 1 (2008) and Wave 2 (2010). Self-rated health, social capital (individual- and contextual-level), and other covariates related to the social determinants of health (SDH) were obtained from the NIDS. Individual-level social capital included group participation, personalised trust and generalised trust while contextual-level or neighbourhood-level social capital was obtained by aggregating from the individual-level and household-level social capital variables to the neighbourhood. Mixed effects models were fitted to predict self-rated health in Wave 2, using lagged covariates (from Wave 1).

RESULTS: Individual personalised trust, individual community service group membership and neighbourhood personalised trust were beneficial to self-rated health. Reciprocity, associational activity and other types of group memberships were not found to be significantly associated with self-rated health in South Africa. Results indicate that both individual- and contextual-level social capital are associated with self-rated health.

CONCLUSION: Policy makers may want to consider policies that impact socioeconomic conditions as well as social capital. Some of these policies are linked to the SDH. We contend that the significant social capital including community service membership can be encouraged through policy in a way that is in line with the values of the people. This is likely to impact on health and quality of life generally and lead to a reduction in the burden of disease in South Africa considering the historic context of the country.

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