Measuring social capital

Measuring social capital

Towards a theoretically informed measurement framework for researching social capital in family and community life

Wendy Stone

Research Paper No. 24 — February 2001

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In Australia, as in other nations, ‘social capital’ is being looked to as a means of stemming the tide of perceived community decline and widespread distrust associated with it. The increasingly central role that social capital plays in Australian public policy has fuelled demand for empirical understandings of it. Yet, demand for empirical measures of social capital exceeds supply.

Within this context the Australian Institute of Family Studies is undertaking the Families, Social Capital and Citizenship project. To inform the Institute project, this paper contributes to the development of clear links between theorised and empirical understandings of social capital by: establishing a theoretically informed measurement framework for empirical investigation of social capital, and; reviewing existing measures of social capital in light of this framework. The paper concludes with a statement of guiding principles for the measurement and empirical investigation of social capital in family and community life.

Where social capital has been measured to date, it has often been done so using ‘questionable measures’, often designed for other purposes, and without sufficient regard to the theoretical underpinnings of the concept to ensure validity or reliability. This paper will be useful for critiquing and building on the work that has already been done.

Authors and Acknowledgements

The assistance of Lixia Qu in the initial gathering, sorting and review of measures of social capital presented in Section 3 of this paper is gratefully acknowledged. Input from Ian Winter, formerly of the Institute, and Jody Hughes, fellow researcher on the project, including comments on drafts of this paper made by each of these colleagues, is also gratefully acknowledged. The paper has also benefited from the helpful comments of Peter Saunders, formerly of the Institute, as well as from Paul Bullen and Philip Hughes who have refereed the paper externally.

Publication details

Research Paper
No. 24
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, February 2001.
Last updated February 2001
Suggested citation:

Stone, W. (2001). Measuring social capital: Towards a theoretically informed measurement framework for researching social capital in family and community life (Research Paper No. 24). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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