Social capital and health care access: a systematic review

Med Care Res Rev. 2009 Jun;66(3):272-306. doi: 10.1177/1077558708330428. Epub 2009 Jan 27.


There is a growing interest in community-level characteristics such as social capital and its relationship to health care access. To assess the rigor with which this construct has been empirically applied in research on health care access, a systematic review was conducted. A total of 2,396 abstracts were reviewed, and 21 met the criteria of examining some measure of social capital and its effects on health care access. The review found a lack of congruence in how social capital was measured and interpreted and a general inconsistency in findings, which made it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the effects of social capital on health care access. Insights from the social network literature can help improve the conceptual and measurement problems. Future work should distinguish among bonding, bridging, and linking social capital and their sources and benefits, and examine whether three dimensions of social capital actually exist: cognitive, behavioral, and structural.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Social Support*