Background: Few prospective cohort studies have assessed the association between social capital and mortality. The studies were conducted only in Western countries and did not use the same social capital indicators. The present prospective cohort study aimed to examine the relationships between various forms of individual social capital and all-cause mortality in Japan.
Methods: Self-administered questionnaires were mailed to subjects in the Aichi Gerontological Evaluation Study (AGES) Project in 2003. Mortality data from 2003 to 2008 were analyzed for 14,668 respondents. Both cognitive and structural components of individual social capital were collected: 8 for cognitive social capital (trust, 3; social support, 3; reciprocity, 2) and 9 for structural social capital (social network). Cox proportional hazard models stratified by sex with multiple imputation were used. Age, body mass index, self-rated health, current illness, smoking history, alcohol consumption, exercise, equivalent income and education were used as covariates.
Results: During 27,571 person-years of follow-up for men and 29,561 person-years of follow-up for women, 790 deaths in men and 424 in women were observed. In the univariate analyses for men, lower social capital was significantly related to higher mortality in one general trust variable, all generalised reciprocity variables and four social network variables. For women, lower social capital was significantly related to higher mortality in all generalised reciprocity and four social network variables. After adjusting for covariates, lower friendship network was significantly associated with higher all-cause mortality among men (meet friends rarely; HR = 1.30, 95%CI = 1.10-1.53) and women (having no friends; HR = 1.81, 95%CI = 1.02-3.23). Among women, lower general trust was significantly related to lower mortality (most people cannot be trusted; HR = 0.65, 95%CI = 0.45-0.96).
Conclusions: Friendship network was a good predictor for all-cause mortality among older Japanese. In contrast, mistrust was associated with lower mortality among women. Studies with social capital indices considering different culture backgrounds are needed.