Location, location, location: contextual and compositional health effects of social capital in British Columbia, Canada

Soc Sci Med. 2005 May;60(9):2059-71. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.08.064. Epub 2004 Nov 13.


After decades of epidemiological exploration into individual-level risk factors for ill health, a recent surge of interest in the health effects of socially patterned attributes of geographically defined 'places' has given the structural side of the agency-structure debate new prominence in population health research. Utilizing two original data sets, one pertaining to features of communities in British Columbia, Canada and the other to characteristics of individuals living in them, this article distinguishes the health effects of socially patterned attributes of communities, including the social capital of communities, from the health effects of characteristics of residents that contribute to social capital, e.g., trust and participation in voluntary associations. Results from multilevel analysis demonstrated that, of three different individual-level measures of health and well-being (and including measures of long-term limiting illness and self-rated health), only a measure of depressive symptoms had variability that could be reasonably attributed to the level of the community. The social capital of communities in the form of the availability of public spaces explained some of this variability, but in the direction contrary to expectations. Overall, location (community of residence) did little to explicate health inequalities in this context. The strongest predictors of health in multivariate and multilevel models were characteristics of individual survey respondents, namely, income, trust in politicians and governments, and trust in other members of the community. Breadth of participation in networks of voluntary association was not significantly related to health in multivariate models.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • British Columbia / epidemiology
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Social Class
  • Social Environment*
  • Trust
  • Volunteers