Social capital: Empirical meaning and measurement validity

Social capital: Empirical meaning and measurement validity

Wendy Stone and Jody Hughes

Research Paper No. 27 — June 2002

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Despite being described as an empirically elusive concept, “social capital” has attracted much policy and academic interest. However, little is known about social capital in practice, since measurement of the concept remains an emerging field. This paper aims to contribute to the development of theoretically based and empirically valid measures of social capital that can be applied in future work. The paper draws on data collected in a national random survey of 1,500 Australian households, to develop and test three competing approaches to measuring social capital, useful for application in different types of settings and for different research questions. The first develops network-based measures, the second explores the question of whether we can construct a single measure of social capital, and the third develops a cluster-based typology of social capital, useful for understanding the types of circumstances that are associated with people being “social capital rich” or “social capital poor”.

Authors and Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the hundreds of participants to the Families, Social Capital and Citizenship survey, who shared much personal information to provide a picture of social capital in family and community life.

We appreciate the contributions of several colleagues at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Christine McCarthy, Ross Millward and the team of telephone interviewers helped ensure the high quality of survey data for the project. David de Vaus and Matthew Gray showed continuing and supportive interest in the paper, and provided advice on conceptual and methodological issues. Matthew Gray, Ann Sanson and David Stanton supplied helpful advice and comments on earlier drafts. We would also like to acknowledge the earlier input of former colleague, Ian Winter, into the measurement framework presented in this paper.

The paper has benefited from the careful comments provided by Paul Bullen, Frank L. Jones and Justine Gibbings. Any remaining shortcomings of the paper are of course the responsibility of the authors.

Publication details

Research Paper
No. 27
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, June 2002.
Suggested citation:

Stone, W., & Hughes, J. (2002). Social capital: Empirical meaning and measurement validity (Research Paper No. 27). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.




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