Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey Community Highlights For
Birmingham Metro Area (Alabama)

[Community Highlights] [Success Stories [1] [2] [3] [Press Release]

The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

Media Contacts:
Carey Hinds, Vice President for Program
Emily Jones Rushing, Communications Officer
The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham
2027 First Avenue No., Suite 410
Birmingham, AL 35203
(205) 328-8641

Email addresses:
Hinds --
Rushing --†
General Office e-mail --

Web address:

Foundation Center folder:

Region 2020:
Nonprofit Resource Center of Alabama:
University of Alabama at Birmingham:
Operation New Birmingham:
Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce:

Sample size:†

Survey Area:
Jefferson and Shelby Counties

Community type:
Predominantly urban

2000 U.S. Census and Claritas Inc.

White† 66%
Black† 32%
Asian† <1%
Hispanic† <1%
Other <1%
2000 U.S. Census and Claritas Inc.

20-34† 20% (163,270)
35-44† 16% (130,524)
45-64† 23% (185,966)
65+†††† 13% (106,324)
2000 U.S. Census and Claritas Inc.

Additional Information:
The Birmingham Metropolitan statistical area consists of four (4) counties: Jefferson, Shelby, Blount and St. Clair, located in a region of hills and valleys that crosses the north central part of Alabama within the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range. The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham includes these four counties, plus Walker County, in the area it has served since 1949.† Jefferson and Shelby counties were chosen for this study because they represent the major concentration of urbanized area within the MSA, as well as a mix of urban and rural areas.

These two counties contain 61 jurisdictions and census designated places (35 cities and 8 Census Designated Places in Jefferson, 17 cities and 1 Census Designated Place in Shelby). Jefferson is the central county in the MSA, containing Birmingham, the largest city in the metropolitan area and in the state.† Located here are the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, the Alabama Ballet, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and the Birmingham Zoo, the largest zoo in a nine-state area. The city of Birmingham had a population of 246,903 in 2000, decreasing by 7 percent during the prior decade.† A weekday workforce of some 80,000 people is employed in the city center, which also welcomes thousands of visitors each year to a series of music and arts festivals in its parks.† The tree-lined downtown includes a world-class hands-on museum and IMAX theater at the McWane Center; the well-respected Birmingham Museum of Art, the largest municipal art museum in the Southeast, as well as the popular Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Birmingham also contains the largest employer in the metropolitan area ó the University of Alabama at Birmingham with its world-renowned medical center and research facilities.

While Jefferson County contains some of the MSAís oldest suburbs, Shelby County has been the area of greatest suburban expansion. Shelby was the fastest growing county in Alabama during the decade of the 1990s, growing by more than 51%, while Jefferson County grew by less than 1%. The median household income in Jefferson County was $39,824 in 2000, while the median household income in Shelby County was $53,881 for the same period. Despite a business heritage strong in manufacturing, 64% of the labor force in Jefferson and Shelby counties today is engaged in managerial, professional, technical, sales and administrative support, while 1% is engaged in farming, forestry and fishing. Only 23% are engaged in distinctively blue collar tasks such as laborers, crafts, precision machinery, fabrication and repair.

Future plans for the use of Social Capital Benchmark Survey results:

  • Co-sponsoring visit of Robert Putnam, who will be the keynote speaker at the Nonprofit Resource Center of Alabama Summit on April 26.† This will be another opportunity to distribute executive summaries of the SCBS results to leaders in nonprofit groups from throughout the state.† Gov. Don Siegelman also will be making a presentation at the Summit and we expect him to be very interested in Putnamís presentation about social capital and the Alabama data.
  • Increasing use of social capital concepts, enhanced by this data, in grantmaking decisions.††
  • Sharing data with other funders, social service and faith-based organizations, as well as academic institutions.† We expect particular interest in survey results from Region 2020, a citizen-driven visioning process which is now working on action plans for a 12-county area that includes Jefferson and Shelby counties, which were surveyed as part of the Social Capital Benchmark Initiative.

The sample
· The Birmingham Metro sample consists of 478 households from Jefferson and Shelby counties (Analysis showed that 22 respondents from the original 500 reported in the sample did not actually live in these two counties).
· The response rate was 32 percent, with a refusal rate of 48 percent.
· The sample was representative of the racial and educational characteristics of Jefferson and Shelby, slightly over representing the Hispanic population (3 percent in sample v. <1 percent from US Census) and under representing the African American (29.4 percent v. 32 percent) and white (63 percent v. 66 percent) subpopulations.

Unique features
· The Birmingham metropolitan area that includes Jefferson and Shelby counties, from which this sample was taken, has a sizable African American population, so the sample consists of 2.5 times the percentage of blacks in the Social Capital sample of 30,000 people that includes both community and national survey respondents.
· The Birmingham Metro sample is characterized by its religiosity, with 81 percent of the sample reporting a membership in a church or other religious institution compared to 65 percent nationally. Only 5 percent of the Birmingham Metro sample describes religion as unimportant, compared to 15 percent nationally. In the local sample, 45 percent contribute more than $500 annually to religious organizations compared to 34 percent in the national sample.
· The Birmingham Metro sample is less knowledgeable politically than the national sample. Only 9 percent of the local sample could name both Alabama senators, compared to 18 percent nationally.
· When using the community quotient norms (scores to compare a community's performance in relation to a result that might be expected based on the urbanicity, ethnicity, levels of education and age distribution within a sample area) to assess social capital scores, the Birmingham Metro sample behaves as expected on aspects of social capital such as general trust, "schmoozing" (developing social connections through informal connections) and charity. The sample's scores are unusually high in faith-based social capital, "macher" (development of social connections through formal memberships and associations) and overall level of formal group involvement (both the "secular" score and the score including religious activity). The Birmingham Metro sample scores lower than the Community Quotient Norm on measures of diversity of friendships, political activism and racial trust.
· The Birmingham Metro sample is one of eight Southern communities where local surveys were conducted. (See website for more details on the areas surveyed.) These include: Atlanta Metro (including DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb, Rockdale and Henry counties); Baton Rouge, La. (including East Baton Rouge Parish); Charlotte, N.C., including 11 counties in North Carolina and three in South Carolina; East Tennessee, including 22 counties; Greensboro and Guildford County, N.C.; Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, N.C., and Kanawha Valley, W.V. (including three counties. Within this group, the Birmingham Metro sample has the highest scores on general social trust, formal group involvement and faith-based social capital. It has the lowest score for diversity of friendships, indicating that these forms of social capital fail to bridge ethnic, racial and class boundaries.

Social characteristics and social capital
· Overall, the education of the respondent is the best predictor of individual social capital in the Birmingham sample.
· Educational level is significantly related to social and racial trust, formal group participation (including and excluding church), civic participation, and diversity of friendships.
· Education is unrelated to faith-based social capital and schmoozing.
· Race is also linked to various aspects of social capital. For example, whites have higher levels of social and racial trust, more diverse friendships, and levels of schmoozing.
· Generally speaking, social capital measures do not vary significantly between those living in the city of Birmingham and other parts of Jefferson and Shelby counties. The only exception is in terms of civic participation, which is higher for respondents within the city limits of Birmingham.
· Women are more likely to volunteer and have higher levels of faith-based social capital.
· The youngest age category (18-34) ranked high as "schmoozers" (involving informal social interaction and connectedness), but otherwise generally exhibit lower social capital. They volunteer less often, have fewer formal group involvements, less civic participation, social trust, and faith-based social capital. The question is whether this age effect will continue to be true as the "generation" moves into a different time of life.

Social capital and well-being
Like the national comparison sample of 3,000 households, the Birmingham Metro sample shows strong links between social capital and personal well-being.
· Social trust and racial trust are very significant predictors of personal happiness, health and assessments of quality of life in the community.
· People who give generously (both to church and charities) are happier, healthier, feel people can be trusted and are more likely to describe the local quality of life as excellent or good.
· Formal group involvement has a positive relationship to happiness and assessment of quality of life.
· Persons with more diverse friendships are happier, healthier, feel people can be trusted and evaluate the local quality of life as good or excellent.
· Schmoozing has no connection with well-being indicators

The links between various types of social capital
As expected, Birmingham Metro residents with higher faith-based social capital and greater formal group involvements exhibit deeper engagement and commitment in other aspects of social capital, such as.
· Greater social and racial trust
· Greater monetary contributions
· Greater diversity of friends
· More volunteering
· Greater political activity