Social capital and health in the least developed countries: a critical review of the literature and implications for a future research agenda

Glob Public Health. 2013;8(9):983-99. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2013.842259.


Research on the linkage between social capital and health has grown in recent years; however, there is a dearth of evidence from resource-poor countries. This review examines the association between social capital and physical health (including health behaviours) in the least developed countries (LDCs). Citations were searched using three databases from 1990 to 2011 using the keyword 'social capital' combined with the name of each of the 48 LDCs. Of the 14 studies reviewed, 12 took place in Africa and 2 in South Asia. All used cross-sectional study designs, including five qualitative and nine quantitative studies. The literature reviewed suggests that social capital is an important factor for improving health in resource-poor settings; however, more research is needed in order to determine the best measures for social capital and elucidate the mechanisms through which social capital affects health in the developing world. Future research on social capital and health in the developing world should focus on applying appropriate theoretical conceptualisations of social capital to the developing country context, adapting and validating instruments for measuring social capital, and examining multilevel models of social capital and health in developing countries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Research*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Social Support*
  • Young Adult