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Local services and amenities, neighborhood social capital, and health

Recent work on health and place has examined the impact of the environment on health. At the local level, research has followed several strands, such as contextual effects of neighborhoods, the impact of differential access to services and amenities, effects of a neighborhood’s collective efficacy, and the relationship between social capital and health. Of these four approaches, social capital has generated the most debate; some scholars discuss social capital as a key epidemiological variable, while others discount or dismiss its utility. We undertook this research to assess whether the concept of social capital could increase our understanding of the impact of neighborhoods on residents’ health. We utilized key informant interviews and focus groups to understand ways in which residents of diverse neighborhoods in one large California city perceived that their local communities were affecting health. We argue in this paper that using the term ‘social capital’ to discuss social resources and their mobilization in a particular neighborhood highlights the ways in which social resources can vary in relation to economic resources, and that residents of neighborhoods with differing levels of services and amenities face different issues when mobilizing to improve their neighborhoods. Additionally, the projects that people invest in vary by neighborhood socioeconomic status. We draw on the paired concepts of ‘bridging’ and ‘bonding’ social capital, and discuss that while stores of bonding social capital may be more uniform across neighborhoods of varying SES, bridging social capital tends to be found in greater amounts in neighborhoods of higher SES which allows them greater success when mobilizing to improve their neighborhoods.

Authors: Altschuler A; Somkin CP; Adler NE

Soc Sci Med. 2004 Sep;59(6):1219-29.

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