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Does Health Affect Social Capital?

September 18, 2020


In the latest in a series of blogs from the Contributors to the Elgar Companion to Social Capital and Health, Hope Corman, Kelly Noonan, and Nancy E. Reichman examine the relationship between health and social capital.

Many people expect and believe that social capital (SC) in a community benefits their health.  This would imply that the direction of causation is from SC to better community health. Many studies support this hypothesis, but this does not rule out the possibility of the reverse direction, that better health in the first place also stimulates activities that bring improvements to the family’s social capital. This would require beneficial effects on the SC elements, for example: Trust among the residents, a sense of this community and an empathy for other people, active participation in the community, family, and local culture. Corman, Noonan, and Reichman (Ch 12) have done research in the publications reviewed by themselves in the chapter on the reverse causation experiments on the random and unexpected disorders in the newborn’s health, and secondly on the ill effects of maternal depression in the postpartum year. These are empirical experiments on carefully devised models.

Effects of Family Health Shocks on Parent’s Social Interactions

Random health shocks from newborn disorders, such as Down Syndrome, (Schultz et al, 2009) were assessed by pediatricians as well as from parental reports in the ensuing months. These found no significant effects on the parent’s social interactions.

Similarly a mother’s postpartum depression showed no effect on the family’s social capital experiences  (Corman et al, 2014). A connection with the mother’s family experience with depression appeared, but a careful investigation indicated that there were no bias effects from this.

Effects of Family Health Shocks on Parent Relationships

In contrast, unexpected health shocks in the newborn affected parent relationships surveyed 12 –18 months later. The authors (Reichman et al, 2004) found the parents couple were 10 percent less likely to live in the same household, suggesting that some felt a lower benefit from the family experience.

The effects of a mother’s postpartum depression were heavier. Among non-marital  birth couples three years later the probability of having gotten married was reduced (by 20 – 26 percent). For cohabiting or married couples three years later the likelihood of still living together was reduced (by 16-28 percent).. The emotional event apparently lowered their commitment toward living together.

The Effects of Family Health Shocks on Residential Instability

There were measured increases in family homelessness, but also of residential instability defined more widely to include: having been homeless, having been evicted, living with family or friends and not paying rent, or having frequent residential moves. The papers reported (Curtis et al, 2013, and Curtis et al, 2015) found that maternal postpartum depression increased homelessness, residential instability and housing inadequacy.

Effects of Adolescent Body Weight on Risky Sexual Behavior

Averett et al, (2013) define risky sex as: that influenced by alcohol, vaginal sex without a condom, and anal sex. The logic here is that girls with lower ability to match with an attractive male will be willing to take more sexual risks. The key is to measure the girl’s weight in relation to average weights of girls in their school. The empirical findings support the hypothesis that overweight or obese girls are more likely to have risky sex by engaging in anal sex. No significant effects were found for either sexual intercourse without a condom or sex with the influence of alcohol.

Comments: The authors’ direct involvement in researching these issues, their demonstration of reverse causality, their development of this research area, as well as its introduction to social capital economics. The complete references to the noted articles are provided in their article (Ch 12) in the Elgar Companion to Social Capital and Health

Hope Corman is Professor of Economics and Director of Health Administration, Rider University and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, USA.

Kelly Noonan is Professor of Economics affiliated with Princeton University, Rider University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, USA.

Nancy E. Reichman is Professor of Pediatrics, Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, USA, and Status Professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Elgar Companion to Social Capital and Health edited by Sherman Folland and Eric Nauenberg is out now.

Read chapter one free on Elgaronline

Also on ElgarBlog:

Why Trust is Good for your Health by Martin Ljunge. Read Martin Ljunge’s chapter Trust promotes health: addressing reverse causality by studying children of immigrants 

The Importance of being Social –Sherman Folland investigates the influential role social capital plays in mental health and physical wellbeing.

Religious Capital, Social Capital and Health Ephraim Shapiro and Chen Sharony explore the link between religion and health

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