Religious social capital: its measurement and utility in the study of the social determinants of health

Soc Sci Med. 2011 Sep;73(5):759-67. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.06.019. Epub 2011 Jul 12.


As a social determinant of health, religiosity remains not well understood, despite the prevalence of religious activity and prominence of religious institutions in most societies. This paper introduces a working measure of Religious Social Capital and presents preliminary associations with neighborhood social capital and urban stressors. Religious social capital is defined as the social resources available to individuals and groups through their social connections with a religious community. Domains covered include group membership, social integration, values/norms, bonding/bridging trust as well as social support. Cross-sectional data come from a convenience sample of 104 community dwelling adults residing in a single urban neighborhood in a large US city, who also provided information on neighborhood social capital, and experiences of urban stressors. Results suggest that religious social capital is a valid construct that can be reliably measured. All indicators of religious social capital were higher among those who frequently attended religious services, with the exception of bridging trust (trust of people from different religious groups). A weak, inverse, association was also observed between religious and neighborhood social capital levels. Levels of religious social capital were correlated with higher levels of reported urban stressors, while neighborhood social capital was correlated with lower urban stressor levels. A significant percent of the sample was unaffiliated with a religious tradition and these individuals were more likely to be male, young and more highly educated. Social capital is a promising construct to help elucidate the influence of religion on population health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Middle Aged
  • Philadelphia
  • Religion*
  • Social Support*