Objective: This paper seeks to compare the relationships between social capital and health for rural and urban residents of South Australia.
Methods: Using data from a South Australian telephone survey of 2,013 respondents (1,402 urban and 611 rural), separate path analyses for the rural and urban samples were used to compare the relationships between six social capital measures, six demographic variables, and mental and physical health (measured by the SF-12).
Results: Higher levels of networks, civic participation and cohesion were reported in rural areas. Education and income were consistently linked with social capital variables for both rural and urban participants, with those on higher incomes and with higher educational achievement having higher levels of social capital. However, there were also differences between the rural and urban groups in some of the other predictors of social capital variables. Mental health was better among rural participants, but there was no significant difference for physical health. Social capital was associated with good mental health for both urban and rural participants, but with physical health only for urban participants. Higher levels of social capital were significantly associated with better mental health for both urban and rural participants, but with better physical health only for urban participants.
Conclusions and implications: The study found that social capital and its relationship to health differed for participants in rural and urban areas, and that there were also differences between the areas in associations with socioeconomic variables. Policies aiming to strengthen social capital in order to promote health need to be designed for specific settings and particular communities within these.