Neighbourhood life and social capital: the implications for health

Soc Sci Med. 2005 Jan;60(1):71-86. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.04.027.


Social capital has been linked to health outcomes, though there are some inconsistencies in the research and the link is dependent on the measures of social capital and health used. In this paper, we argue that social capital is multifaceted and its relationship with health is complex. We explore the relationship between a number of elements of neighbourhood life and neighbourhood-based social capital, and health, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The paper reports on a study of the Western suburbs of Adelaide and the analysis of 2400 questionnaires and 40 in-depth interviews. A partial least-square path analysis was undertaken with the questionnaire data. It considered the impact of perceptions of the physical environment, neighbourhood connections, neighbourhood trust, reciprocity, perceived safety and local civic action, and a number of demographic variables, on physical and mental health as measured by the SF-12. Of the neighbourhood-related variables, only perceived neighbourhood safety was related to physical health, with neighbourhood safety and neighbourhood connections related to mental health. Of the demographic variables, higher-income level and educational achievement were related to better physical and mental health. In addition, physical health was lower and mental health higher within older age groups. The inter-relationships between the neighbourhood variables and demographic differences in experience of neighbourhood were also examined. The thematic analysis of the interviews linked a number of social aspects of neighbourhood, the physical neighbourhood environment, perceptions of safety, civic activities and availability of local services, to health outcomes. The paper concludes that there is a need for more complex measures of social capital and that socio-economic factors are of relatively greater importance in determining health.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Community Participation
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Safety
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Identification
  • Social Perception*
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • South Australia
  • Trust