The opportunity and challenge of faith-based civic engagement.

The opportunity and challenge of diversity

Community connectedness linked to happiness and vibrant communities

Dimensions of social capital

Variation between communities/community analysis

Survey design, methodology, and other housekeeping details

Raw data available from Roper Center

Table 1
Communities Surveyed, Geography of Area, and Sample Size

Table 2
Effective Sample Sizes and 95% Confidence Intervals for Percentage Estimates


Dimensions of social capital

Social capital, like intelligence, generally coheres as a core concept. Some people are smarter than others, and people adept at math are likely to be good at poetry; which is why one can speak of IQs (Intelligence Quotients).  However, at a finer grain, there are different types of intelligence—the best mathematicians are not the best poets, and neither are they necessarily emotionally intelligent.

The same is true of social capital.  Among literally hundreds of different measures of social capital in the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, some people (or communities) broadly are more (or less) socially connected.  People with lots of friends are more likely to vote more, to attend church more often, and to bowl in leagues.  This means that you can speak of a person (or a community) as being generally high (or low) in social capital.  On the other hand, closer examination reveals different sub-dimensions (comparable to the difference between mathematical, verbal, emotional, and spatial intelligence).

What follows is a brief description of the 11 different facets of social capital that have emerged from the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey.  There are two dimensions of "social trust" (whether you trust others), two measures of political participation, two measures of civic leadership and associational involvement, a measure of giving and volunteering, a measure of faith-based engagement, a measure of informal social ties, a measure of the diversity of our friendships, and a measure of the equality of civic engagement at a community level.


Social trust: at the core of social capital is the question of whether you can trust other people.  Often this trust is forged with specific people through common participation in groups, associations, and activities.  Nevertheless, when this trust transcends from trust of specific individuals to generalized trust, it is extraordinarily valuable.  Much like cash is more efficient than barter (because it eliminates the need to negotiate each transaction), generalized social trust is extremely important in lubricating social interaction and getting things accomplished. Our first index of social trust combines trust of people in one's neighborhood, coworkers, shop clerks, co-religionists, local police, and finally "most people."

Inter-racial trust: as we've discussed earlier, a critical challenge facing communities attempting to build social capital is the fact that it is simply harder to do in places that are more diverse.  The measure of inter-racial trust looks at the extent to which different racial groups (whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians) trust one another and is thus one proxy for the health of inter-racial relations in a community.

Diversity of friendships: equally important to their levels of social trust are how diverse people's social networks are.  Since it was impractical in a 25 minute phone survey to ask each person surveyed to list all the people he/she knew and to describe each one, we asked (as a proxy) whether the respondent had a personal friend who is a: business owner, was on welfare, owned a vacation home, is gay, is a manual worker, is White, is Black, is Hispanic, is Asian, is a community leader, and was of a different faith.  Then we added up how many of these 11 categories each respondent mentioned.  This index thus broadly measures the degree to which people's social networks (and collectively a community's networks) are diverse.  These "bridging ties" are especially valuable in producing community solidarity and in forging a larger consensus on how communities need to change or work together.

Political participation

Conventional politics participation: One of the key measures for how engaged we are in communities is the extent to which we are involved politically.  This measure looks at how many in our communities are registered to vote, actually vote, express interest in politics, are knowledgeable about political affairs and read the newspaper regularly.

Protest politics participation: The data in the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey indicate that many communities that exhibit low levels of participation in conventional/electoral ways, nonetheless exhibit high levels of participation in protest forms, such as taking part in marches, demonstrations, boycotts, rallies, participating in groups that took action for local reform, participating in labor and ethnically-related groups.  This dimension is a composite of those types of participation.

Civic leadership and associational involvement: Many people typically get involved locally by joining groups that they care about (be they veterans groups, sports groups, literary groups, or new age poetry clubs).  We measured such engagement in two ways:

Civic Leadership: this is a composite measure both of how frequently respondents were engaged in groups, clubs and local discussions of town or school affairs, and also whether the respondent took a leadership role within these groups. Communities that rank high on this aspect of social capital benefit from a hum of civic activity.

Associational involvement: we measured associational involvement across 18 broad categories of groups (including an "other" category).  Respondents were asked about participation in the following types of groups: organizations affiliated with religion; sports clubs, leagues, or outdoor activities; youth organizations; parent associations or other school support groups; veterans groups; neighborhood associations; seniors groups; charity or social welfare organizations; labor unions; professional, trade, farm or business associations; service or fraternal organizations; ethnic, nationality, or civil rights organizations; political groups; literary, art, or musical groups; hobby, investment, or garden clubs; self-help programs; groups that meet only over the Internet; and any other type of groups or associations.

Informal socializing: While many communities (or individuals) are either higher or lower generally in social capital, some communities or individuals are more likely to develop social connections through formal memberships and associations ("machers") and others are more likely to develop these connections through informal friendships ("schmoozers").  While the "civic leadership" and "assocational involvement" measures above capture the formal social ties, the "informal socializing" dimension measures the degree to which residents had friends over to their home, hung out with friends in a public place, socialized with co-workers outside of work, played cards or board games with others, and visited with relatives.

Giving and volunteering: One of the ways that Americans express their concern for others is through giving to charity or volunteering. Various aspects of generosity go together: people who are generous with their purse are also generous with their time.  The same is true of communities. This dimension measures how often community residents volunteer at various venues and how generous they are in giving.

Faith-based engagement: religion in America is a big part of social capital.  Roughly one-half of all American connectedness is religious or religiously affiliated, whether measured by memberships, volunteering time, or philanthropy.  Thus, this dimension matters a lot to overall levels of community connection. This measure of faith-based engagement looks at: religious attendance and membership, participation in church activities besides services, participation in organization affiliated with religion, giving to religious causes and volunteering at place of worship.

Equality of civic engagement across the community: in some communities the ranks of the civic are much more heavily skewed towards those who are wealthier, more educated, and whiter.  In other communities, the poor, less educated, and people of color participate at rates much closer to their wealthier, whiter and more educated brethren.  Since it is important to the community health, this measure scores highly those communities with more egalitarian civic participation.  [This measure is an average correlation across 8 different types of civic participation and across three measures of class (race, income, and education) to see how skewed civic participation in a community is.

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