Social Capital

Social capital is a fairly broad sociological and technical term that refers to the “value” of a social network.

Much has been written about the importance of social networks, both to an individual’s happiness and influence, as well as the health of the greater society in which she lives.  See for example, “Bowling Alone” by Robert Putnam, or “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

It therefore seems important to cultivate these networks, whether as individuals, or as institutions, or as societies as a whole.

It helps me to understand what social capital is, by understanding some of its measures.  The ones I want to discuss today are for an individual (following are taken from “Network Measures of Social Capital” by Stephen P. Borgatti, & Candace Jones, Connections v21(2)27-36, 1998 INSNA.  They try to ignore relational contents such as friendship, and want to measure neutral or positive relations such as knows or likes.):

  1. Size/degree: the number of persons that you are connected to.  Size has a positive relation to social capital, since the more people with whom you are connected, the more likely it is one of them has the resource you need.
  2. Density: the proportion of pairs of persons in your network that are themselves connected.  Density has a negative relation to social capital, since if all the persons in your network are connected to each other, then they are “redundant.”  That is, relational energy is a limited resource; don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  3. Heterogeneity: the variety of persons with respect to relevant dimensions, such as age, sex, race, occupation, and talents.  Heterogeneity is positively related to social capital, except where it conflicts with compositional quality, since it is likely to bring a broader range of ideas.
  4. Compositional quality: the number of persons with high levels of needed characteristics (e.g., wealth, power, expertise, or generosity of persons).  Compositional quality is positively related to social capital, since the more connected to useful others we are, the more social capital we have.

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