Health by association? Social capital, social theory, and the political economy of public health

Int J Epidemiol. 2004 Aug;33(4):650-67. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyh013. Epub 2004 Jul 28.


Three perspectives on the efficacy of social capital have been explored in the public health literature. A "social support" perspective argues that informal networks are central to objective and subjective welfare; an "inequality" thesis posits that widening economic disparities have eroded citizens' sense of social justice and inclusion, which in turn has led to heightened anxiety and compromised rising life expectancies; a "political economy" approach sees the primary determinant of poor health outcomes as the socially and politically mediated exclusion from material resources. A more comprehensive but grounded theory of social capital is presented that develops a distinction between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. It is argued that this framework helps to reconcile these three perspectives, incorporating a broader reading of history, politics, and the empirical evidence regarding the mechanisms connecting types of network structure and state-society relations to public health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Politics
  • Poverty
  • Public Health*
  • Social Justice*
  • Social Values*
  • United Kingdom