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Measuring Social Capital: current collections and future directions


November 2000


1 Social Capital is fast gaining wide interest and use among policy makers, politicians and researchers alike. There is also a strong push from the general community to use social capital as a way to not only describe but also to understand community well-being. Using purely economic terms for such a task is seen as inadequate. This interest is also fuelled by some promising research indicating that social capital may further explain the disparities in health, housing, education, and other facets of social life.

2 With this in mind, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), with its research and survey expertise, would like to contribute to measuring social capital in Australia. The ABS is considering including social capital measures in the proposed General Social Survey 2002. Preliminary consultation with the Reference Group for that survey, as well as broader reflections on social capital in general, suggest that discussion with a wider range of clients would be valuable. Consequently, this issues paper - being the first step of a consultation process - has been developed to engender discussion and to seek input and comments in the following areas:
  • Key social issues and policy questions that might benefit from information on social capital;
  • The usefulness of the proposed list of data items for measuring social capital;
  • The suitability of current ABS data and survey collections for obtaining information on social capital; and
  • Important information gaps on social capital which might be filled by future ABS collections.


3 The concept of social capital has been receiving considerable attention both within Australia and overseas and is a subject of discussion and debate in both government and academic circles. Social capital relates to the resources available within communities as a consequence of networks of mutual support, reciprocity, trust and obligation. It can be accumulated when people interact with each other in families, workplaces, neighbourhoods, local associations and a range of informal and formal meeting places. Social capital is not, however, a precise concept. In fact, there is considerable debate and discussion about exactly what is meant by social capital and various definitions have been proposed. In addition, there is debate as to whether social capital should be seen as an attribute of individuals or of communities.

4 This paper does not provide an extensive review of the literature or debate (although a select bibliography of relevant literature is included in section 5) but broadly summarises the literature where some agreement exists. One valuable source, produced in 2000, is entitled "Major themes and debates in the social capital literature: the Australian connection" in Social Capital and Public Policy in Australia, edited by Ian Winter and produced by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. This article is valuable because of its recent release and its Australian emphasis. Winter notes that "the review purposively avoids taking a particular position in relation to the literature, but instead attempts to offer a 'neutral' definitional base".

5 Winter suggests that there is reasonable agreement on the conceptual definition of social capital and he proposes a working definition as "social relations of mutual benefit characterised by norms of trust and reciprocity". In this sense, reciprocity relates to the assumptions and expectations underlying the obligations which people, groups and institutions have to one another. While there may be some argument with this definition, it has been accepted as a working definition for the purposes of this paper.


6 The ABS recognises the excellent investigative work undertaken by educational institutions and researchers within and outside Australia on the nature and essence of social capital. Rather than adding to this innovative work and expanding the debate on how social capital should be defined, the ABS aims to focus on the role it might play in gathering information in the shorter term on aspects of social capital for which there is some conceptual agreement.

7 The main interest of the ABS is how we might best develop some useful measures of social capital. The following section seeks comments and input from data users on this issue. There has been considerable interest on which unit of measurement or level of aggregation should be used and some debate on whether social capital is a trait of individuals or of communities. Perhaps the most pressing issue of measurement is which indicators or aspects of social capital should be measured. Finally, the ABS is interested in how the information on social capital will effect evidence-based decision making.


8 Some debate on social capital has centred around the question of whether it can be accrued by individuals or whether it is only a property of social interactions and therefore cannot be held by individuals. The latter view implies that social capital can only be viewed as a resource of a group. If the latter view is correct (and social capital is a resource held by a group and not by individuals), then whether it can be measured by aggregating information collected from individuals needs to be established.

9 At present, the ABS has considerable experience in measuring at the individual level - where one person from each household is selected for interview - and household level - where all members of a selected household are interviewed. Information about families can also be produced provided the family members live in the same household. ABS household surveys are not able to provide measures at local community level as sample sizes do not permit production of accurate small area estimates. Nevertheless, surveys could provide information on the level of social capital in Australia and the States and Territories and give an indication of the difference between rural and metropolitan areas and between particular groups in the population.

10 Comments on the unit of measurement would be useful. You may wish to consider the following questions when giving feedback:

(a) Can the concept of social capital as a resource of a group, be successfully measured by aggregating information collected from individuals?

(b) Which unit of measurement described above would be most valuable for measuring social capital (eg: individual , household , family or community level)?

(c) Are ABS household surveys useful means for obtaining such information?


11 ABS is keen to identify those indicators which bear on social capital and which ABS might usefully collect in its household surveys. The measurement of social capital is most effective when questions relate to different levels of the social environment. The diagram below demonstrates these levels.

12 Some preliminary work is being carried out in the development of the General Social Survey and over the next twelve months a number of questions relating to social capital will be tested for inclusion in that survey. (See Attachment A.) However, more specifically, clients might assist the ABS by nominating the type of indicators that would shed light on their particular area of interest. The following is a list of concepts which have been collected in other surveys (see Attachment B - Social Capital Surveys) and which have been identified through discussions on social capital within the ABS. Depending on the usefulness and ability to gather such information, the ABS could consider collecting these items in future surveys. Your comments and input on these items would be most valuable.

Please identify the data items and concepts which are most useful to your area of work and make other comments on whether any major items have been missed.

Social Networks and Support Structures
  • Frequency of contact with family and friends (outside of the household)
  • Whether someone can be called on in times of sickness
  • Frequency of visiting neighbours
  • Degree to which individuals know other people in their neighbourhood
  • Frequency of doing favours for neighbours
  • Whether an individual's workmates are also their friends
  • Quality of relationships between employees and employers
Social and Community Participation
  • Picking up other people's rubbish when you come across it
  • Active involvement in community projects, groups or networks
  • Participation in local community action in response to an emergency or crisis
  • Degree of local newspaper coverage/readership
Civic and Political Involvement and Empowerment
  • Attendance at local community events
  • Degree of involvement in local, state or national issues
  • Degree of awareness of local people, events and politics
  • Whether contacted local member of parliament either by phone, mail or face-to-face
  • In a public meeting, if you disagree on what everyone else agrees on, do you feel free to speak out?
Trust in People and Social Institutions
  • Whether feels that most people can generally be trusted
  • The extent to which people in the neighbourhood can be trusted
  • Experiences of crime
  • Beliefs about personal safety when walking alone in local area after dark
  • Beliefs about the potential for becoming a victim of crime
  • Level of trust in political parties, politicians, police & public servants to act for the public good
  • Level of confidence in churches, trade unions, large corporations, the media
Tolerance of Diversity
  • Whether multiculturalism makes life in local area better or worse
  • Degree of tolerance for diversity
  • Level of disagreements or tension between ethnic groups
  • Level of cooperation displayed between groups
Altruism, Philanthropy and Voluntary Work
  • Whether gives up time freely to help others
  • Whether monetary donations are made to charitable or non-profit organisations
  • Level of support for newly arrived refugees
  • Level of support for overseas aid programs


13 If social capital is seen as 'the glue that binds' then there are potential links between social capital and a wide range of areas of social concern for which data is currently collected. These include health, families, education and training, work, income and consumption, paid and unpaid work, housing and neighbourhoods, and crime and justice. Needs of clients in these areas of social concern may be quite different. To assist the ABS to understand your needs as a user of ABS data, your input is sought on the key issues and policy questions that data on social capital could inform.

14 To give an example, a major issue in the management of diabetes is compliance with treatment and diet. This may be linked to trust. If a person does not trust their doctor or believes that diabetes is not a serious disease, they may be less likely to comply with treatment. In this case, the policy question might be: 'Does higher social capital correspond with a higher compliance to diabetes treatment and diet?' The policy response might be 'to implement programs, guidelines or training which promote trust relationships between clients and practitioners'.

Other examples include:
Policy question: Do areas with high social capital have lower suicide rates?
Policy response: Implement policies which improve social networks among those at risk.

Policy question: Do areas with lower social capital use less public transport?
Policy response: Employ public transport policies which address the reasons for lack of use which are reflected in the social capital levels of the community.

Please list other key social issues and policy questions that measuring social capital will inform in your area of interest or work.


15 The ABS has already conducted a number of surveys that may assist in informing researchers about some aspects of social capital in Australia. Following is a brief description of some of these surveys. Your input into whether these have been of benefit in terms of information on social capital would be useful.

16 Some questions that you may wish to consider for each of the following surveys include:-

(a) Have you used information from this survey?

(b) Have you used the survey to inform on social capital? If so, how?

(c) Was the data sufficient for this purpose?

(d) Do you have any comments on how the survey could have made the reporting on social capital easier/better?

Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 1998

17 The Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers provides information on people with disabilities, older people (aged 60 and over) and people who provide assistance to others because of their disabilities. The ABS has conducted four disability surveys: 1981, 1988, 1993 and 1998 and broad comparisons are mainly possible. The 1998 Survey collected information on approximately 37,580 respondents. Relevant data items are listed below.

For recipients of care:

  • Type of assistance needed and received;
  • Types of social or community participation;
  • Participation in cultural and leisure activities; and
  • Whether attended and frequency of attendance at a supervised activity program for people with disabilities.

For carers:
  • Need for and receipt of assistance or respite care to care for an older person or person with a disability;
  • Reason for providing care; and
  • Effects of the caring role on relationships, well-being and working life.

Survey of Voluntary Work 1995

18 This survey provides information on unpaid voluntary work through an organisation or group and was conducted in June 1995. Information was collected from approximately 54,500 respondents. A second survey is being conducted in 2000 and output is expected to be broadly comparable. Data items relate to people 15 years of age and over:
  • Number of organisations volunteered for;
  • Field of voluntary work;
  • Hours of voluntary work;
  • Activity of voluntary work;
  • Reasons for becoming a volunteer; and
  • Personal benefits gained through voluntary work.

Time Use Survey 1997

19 The 1997 Time Use Survey was conducted to obtain information about the way people allocate time to different kinds of activities. It was conducted over four periods during 1997 in order to balance seasonal influences which affect time use patterns. The first national Time Use Survey was in 1992. The 1997 survey collected information from around 4,500 households (8,600 respondents). Data items collected include information on:
  • Personal care activities;
  • Employment related activities;
  • Education activities;
  • Domestic activities;
  • Child care activities;
  • Purchasing goods and services;
  • Voluntary work and care activities; and
  • Social and community interaction.

Survey of Families in Australia 1992

20 The 1992 Survey of Families in Australia presents information on the characteristics of families and family members, and the nature of family support. The survey was designed to assist understanding of contemporary social and family issues. The survey had approximately 34,000 persons participating during March 1992 to May 1992. Data items collected included information on:
  • Child care provision and level of difficulty balancing work and child care;
  • Provision of personal care/home help; and
  • Difficulties experienced balancing work, caring for sick, disabled or elderly family members.

Child Care Survey 1999

21 The major aim of this survey was to collect data on the use of, and demand for, child care for children aged less than 12 years. Approximately 11,400 children under 12 were surveyed in 1999. Information was also collected on the use and non-use of the child care rebate and the working arrangements and income of parents with children under 12. This survey has been conducted since 1969. Recent surveys were conducted in 1990, 1993 and 1996. Comparisons among the surveys are possible. Data items relate to children under 12 and their families and include information on:
  • Care arrangements;
  • Type of organisation that provided formal care;
  • Relationship of person who provided informal care (eg grandparent);
  • Reasons why informal care was used;
  • Reasons why formal care was used;
  • Work arrangements used to care for children; and
  • Employer assisted child care (1996, 1993 only).

Crime and Safety Survey 1998

22 This survey provides information about the level of victimisation in the community for selected offences. Information is available for individuals and households about their experience of selected crimes, whether these crimes were reported to police, and crime-related risk factors. The ABS has conducted four national surveys of crime and safety in 1975, 1983, 1993 and 1998. State surveys were conducted in 1995. Data from the 1993 national survey and 1995 state surveys are broadly comparable. However, due to significant changes in question wording it is not possible to compare robbery and assault data for 1993 and 1988. Information was collected from approximately 51,800 respondents in the 1998 survey. Data items collected include:
  • Neighbourhood characteristics (including perceived crime problems in the neighbourhood);
  • Break-in attempts;
  • Break-in risk factors (eg: security precautions);
  • Motor vehicle theft;
  • Whether personally robbed or physically attacked;
  • Assault; and
  • Sexual assault.

Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues Survey 1999

23 This survey provides information and demographics about the numbers of people who attend a range of cultural venues. The 1999 survey sample size consisted of approximately 25,200 respondents. The ABS has conducted two previous surveys of attendance at selected cultural venues, in 1998 and 1995. Data are broadly comparable. Cultural venues included:
  • Art galleries;
  • Museums;
  • Animal and marine parks;
  • Botanic gardens;
  • Libraries;
  • Popular or classical music, opera or musical venues;
  • Theatre, dance or other performing arts venues; and
  • Cinema.

Participation in Sport and Physical Activity 1997-98

24 The 1997-98 Participation in Sport and Leisure Activities Survey presents details of persons who participated in sport and physical activity in Australia over a 12 month period prior to interviewing during 1998-99, obtained through the Population Survey Monitor. Results from the four quarterly surveys have been collated to produce annual estimates. Whether an activity was regarded as a sport or physical activity was left to the opinion of the respondent, with some guidance from a prompt card.

25 The sample size of the survey was approximately 13,000 persons. Data items collected included information on:
  • Participation in organised sport or physical activities;
  • Participation in social sport or physical activities; and
  • Reasons for discontinuing sport or physical activities.


26 Requests for your input and ideas throughout this paper have been quite specific. You are now invited to give any further comments on social capital measurement within the ABS. Your perusal of the list of main references considered for this paper (see below) and the list of social capital surveys (see Attachment B) to identify any key references and surveys that have been omitted would also be most welcome. Finally, thank you for your time and your input into this process. Your comments are a valuable part of the process of guiding future social capital measurement by the ABS.

27 We will continue to keep you informed on progress with this project.



Baum F, Palmer C, Modra C, Murray C, Bush R (2000) Families, Social Capital and Health, in Winter I. (2000) Social Capital and Public Policy in Australia, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, pp 250-275.

Benham D, De Maio J, Lubulwa G (2000) Social Capital: Concepts, Definitions, Measures and Data Sources, Analysis Branch, Methodology Division, ABS Draft Paper.

Berger-Schmitt, Heinz-Herbert Noll, (2000) Conceptual Framework and Structure of a European System of Social Indicators, EU Reporting Working Paper No 9, Centre for Survey Research and Methodology (ZUMA), Mannheim.

Bordieu P (1986) The Forms of Capital, in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, J.G Richardson (Ed), Greenwood Press, New York.

Coleman J (1988) Social Capital and the Creation of Human Capital, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 94 pp 95-120

Cox E (1995) A Truly Civil Society, ABC Books, Sydney

Department of Family and Community Services:

Falk I, Harrison S (1998) Indicators of Social Capital: Social Capital as the Product of Local Interactive Learning Processes, Centre for Research and Learning in Regional Australia (CRLRA), University of Tasmania, Paper D4/1998 in the CRLRA Discussion paper series.

Hagan J, McCarthy B (n.d) Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Social Capital as a Bridging Concept between Strain and Social Control, American Society of Criminology, 48th Annual Meeting, Chicago as cited by World Bank Web site.

House J, Landis K, Umberson D (1988) Social Relationships and Health, Science, vol 241, no 4865, 29 July, pp 540-5

Knack S, Keefer P (1998) Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross Country Investigation, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 112: pp 1251-88.

Kreuter M, Lezin N, Koplan A (January 1997) National Level Assessment of Community Health Promotion Using Indicators of Social Capital, prepared for WHO/EURO Working Group on Evaluating Health Promotion Approaches and Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, unpublished paper .

Labonte R (1999) Social Capital and Community Development: Practitioner Emptor, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 23(4): 430-33.

Lang R, Hornburg S (1998) What is Social Capital and Why is it Important to Public Policy?, Housing Policy Debate; 9(1), pp 1-16.

Norton A (1998) The Welfare State - Depreciating Australia's Social Capital? Policy Vol 14, no 1, pp 41-3.

Ostrom E (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. As found in Narayan D, Pritchett L (1997), "Cents and Sociability: Household Income and Social Capital in Rural Tanzania." Policy Research Department, World Bank, Washington DC.

Perri R (1997) Social Exclusion: Time to be Optimistic in The Wealth and Poverty of Networks: Tackling Social Exclusion, Demos Collection 12, London, quoted by Levitas R (1998) The Inclusive Society? Social Exclusion and New Labour, Macmillan Press.

Putnam R (1993) Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Reference Group on Social Reform. (March 2000) Interim Report: Participation Support for a More Equitable Society, p 13.

Rosenfeld E (1997) Social Support and Health Status: A Literature Review, South Australian Community Health Research Unit, Adelaide.

Winter I (2000) Major Themes and Debates in the Social Capital Literature: The Australian Connection, in Winter, I (ed) Social Capital and Public Policy in Australia, AIFS, Melbourne.

Woolcock M (1998) Social capital and economic development: toward a theoretical synthesis and policy framework, Theory and Society; 27 pp 151-208.


Bulleen P, Onyx J (1998) Social Capital: Family Support Services and Neighbourhood and Community Centres in NSW - Questionnaire, in Measuring Social Capital in Five Communities in NSW: A Practitioner's Guide Management Alternatives, PO Box 181, Coogee NSW 2034.

Centre for Research and Learning in Regional Australia (CRLRA), (In Progress) Trust in Rural Communities, University of Tasmania, Hobart.

Hall M, et al (1998) Caring Canadians: Highlights from the 1997 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating Occasional Paper, Statistics Canada, Ottawa. Cat. 71-542-XIE.

Inter University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), (1999) World Values Survey, 1981-1984 and 1990-1993. ICPSR, University of Michigan, Ann Arbour, Michigan.

American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) (1997) Survey of Civic Involvement, Research Group, AARP, 601 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20049, United States.

United Kingdon Millennium Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey.

United Kingdom Social Capital Survey.

World Bank (1998) Global Social Capital Survey,




1 The concept of social capital has been receiving considerable attention both within Australia and overseas. It is assumed that people living in communities with high levels of social capital will have more favourable social and economic outcomes. There is considerable discussion about what is meant by social capital and a range of definitions have been proposed. For example, one definition of social capital is the sum of the resources communities have to identify and achieve their goals through networks of mutual support and mutual obligation. It is the bond of trust and relationship which communities build and renew when people interact with each other in families, workplaces, neighbourhoods, local associations and a range of informal and formal meeting places (Sandeman et. al., 1999).

2 Despite the level of debate, there are a number of common themes. Social capital is considered to encompass:
  • social networks and support structures;
  • empowerment and community participation;
  • civic and political involvement;
  • trust in people and social institutions;
  • tolerance of diversity; and
  • altruism and philanthropy.
3 The current ABS Forward Work Program includes the new task of developing definitions and measures of the concept of social capital for use in ABS household surveys. Work on this project has now commenced and the GSS represents a step towards this goal. While the GSS is a useful opportunity to operationalise some social capital concepts, there are limitations because of the timetable for the first GSS, and because the social capital project is still in its infancy. The social capital project's first major milestone will be consultation with the user community to identify and prioritise the gaps in data on social capital that ABS can fill, either by improving data currently collected or by collecting data on new variables. This is expected to occur in the next few months via the circulation of a social capital paper.

4 The GSS conceptual framework includes social capital as an important facilitator of social cohesion and thus social and economic participation in society. However social capital is by no means the only reason for the survey, and further, more comprehensive efforts to operationalise social capital concepts can be expected in the future. In the GSS context, items relating to social capital are less well developed than most of the other items, and therefore will require more development work.

5 There are a number of items relating to social capital that could be considered for the GSS, and most are less well developed than items in other topic areas. The illustrative content of a GSS already included some items which fit within social capital. Responses to the recent information paper have proposed others. The most likely candidates are listed and discussed below. They relate to the first four social capital themes already discussed. It is necessary to establish their relative priority, with reference to the likely data quality of output, and the interview time and development work likely to be required. The data items to be put forward for pretesting are expected to be a subset of this group.

6 The possible social capital items are:
    Contact with family/friends
    Number of close friends
    Ability to ask for small favours
    Support in time of crisis
    Work friends and connections
    Active involvement with group/community activities
    Voluntary work
    Actions taken due to concern about an issue
    Level of trust
    Fear of crime
    Neighbourhood problems


Number of close friends

7 These items are measures of sociability and engagement, as well as social exclusion. Such indicators are among the most frequently used measures of social capital. The DFACS Stronger Families and Communities Strategy reflects this with its stress on the traditional institutions of family and community as providers of the most effective social support.

8 Frequency of contact with family and/or friends was included in the Living Standards Project* and these questions were considered to be good candidates for the GSS as they performed well. Another item suggested was the number of close friends you have. Close friends are people you feel at ease with and can talk to about what is on your mind. Although this latter item has been included in other surveys in Australia, such a question is likely to require careful testing.

Ability to ask for small favours

9 This item relates to the existence of support relationships and neighbourhood connections. It is also an important indicator of social exclusion. The item was tested during the Living Standards Project* development, and appeared to work well. Examples of small favours given to respondents included looking after pets, minding a child in an emergency, collecting mail, help lifting objects, borrowing equipment, and advice or a chat.

Support in time of crisis

10 Although superficially similar to the previous item, support in time of crisis refers to support that represents a far greater level of assistance and obligation, in an emergency situation, and which is not limited to resources in the local area. The role of neighbours and families helping each other in times of crisis has been emphasised in the DFACS Stronger Families and Communities Strategy. The GSS already includes some relevant information, such as family type and contact with family/friends, but does not show the nature of these relationships and whether they are potential sources of support. More detail is required about the underlying concepts and definitions involved, and what sort of information would be required from responses to this item. For example, how 'support' and 'crisis' should be defined and whether help from family, friends and community or government services should be included. This item is likely to require significant development work and, given its hypothetical nature, it may be very difficult to ensure data quality.

Work friends and connections

11 This item is a flow variable which refers to work connections. The GSS already includes some relevant information, such as standard labour force status and other labour force items, but this does not show the nature of these relationships. Whether workmates are also friends, or whether workmates are seen out of work hours, could be considered for testing.

Active involvement with group/community activities

12 This is another of the most frequently used social capital measures. The DFACS Stronger Families and Communities Strategy includes the Can Do Community initiative to encourage people to get involved in their community. Similar items were included in the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) 1998, and the Living Standards Project*. SDAC asked about social or community participation in the last three months (e.g.visiting relatives or friends; restaurant or club; church activities; voluntary activities; performing arts group activities; art/craft group activities). The Living Standards Project* tested a question about the type of involvement with community or group activities in the last 12 months (e.g. school-related activities; service club; ethnic group; volunteer group; fundraising etc.). It also asked for peoples' perceptions of their level of community/group involvement. There are conceptual and practical problems associated with such questions: it is difficult to ensure that only active involvement is reported, respondents are affected by social desirability factors which lead to over-reporting, and there may be overlap with other questions such as voluntary work. However, these problems could be addressed in further development work.

Voluntary work

13 Similar to the previous item, voluntary work is another frequently used measure. It is an indicator of participation in community and active citizenship. The services provided by volunteers is reflected in the DFACS Stronger Families and Communities Strategy - the National skills development program for volunteers recognises that the extent of volunteering in a community is a major indicator of community strength, and has the capacity to ease the stress on families and improve well-being. The ABS Survey of Voluntary Work was conducted in 1995, and has also been conducted in 2000. The Living Standards Project* also included questions on voluntary work. This item is relatively easy to collect and will not require significant development work.

Actions taken due to concern about an issue

14 Another frequently used measure, this item refers to civic engagement and neighbourhood connections. It is also an important indicator of social exclusion. The Living Standards Project* tested items called "Actions taken because of concern about an issue" (e.g. attended council meeting, wrote to council, contacted politician, signed petition, attended public meeting, wrote a letter to the paper, called a radio station), and "Reason for not taking action". Less than half of the respondents reported taking any actions. The actions reported were wide-ranging and were similar for all age groups except the youngest. Particular problems were associated with "Reason for not taking action", with a high level of non-response and sensitivity issues. However, the "Actions taken because of concern about an issue" item could be a candidate for the GSS, with further development work.


Neighbourhood problems

15 A key measure of social capital is trust. Social trust refers to attitudes to strangers and casual acquaintances, and to institutions. It is a stock variable which aims to measure subjective feelings of trust in the wider community. It is also a direct, individual level measure. Social trust is related to socioeconomic status, education and personality. Another closely related concept is perceptions of crime or feelings of safety. Feelings of safety or fear of crime can be measured directly, or can also be measured indirectly by asking about safety issues such as problems in the neighbourhood (which also relates to neighbourhood connections).

16 Self-ratings of the degree of safety reported by respondents in reference to particular situations (e.g. at home alone during day/after dark, walking/jogging locally alone during day/after dark, on public transport during day/after dark) was included in the Population Survey Monitor (PSM). The "Problems in the neighbourhood" item has been collected in the ABS Crime and Safety Survey (e.g. theft, drunkenness, vandalism, drugs, assault, problems with neighbours). While there are data quality concerns associated with the feelings of safety/fear of crime data, the "problems in the neighbourhood" item performs well.

17 While trust itself would be the most direct measure of social capital, it is likely to have significant collection difficulties and high development costs. It may be possible to put possible trust measures as well as safety/fear of crime measures into pretesting to determine whether adequate measures can be developed. "Problems in the neighbourhood" could be a back-up item, or an additional, more objective item.


Sandeman, S., McClure, P., Leech, M., Strengthening Australian Communities, Occasional Paper No. 1, Mission Australia, July 1999.

The Living Standards Project was conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics during 1997-98 and was jointly funded with the Department of Family and Community Services.



Attempts to operationalise the concept of social capital have been made in both Australia and overseas. The following section provides a list of social capital surveys which the ABS currently has in its possession and a short explanatory note detailing the content of each one.

1. Social Capital: Family Support Services and Neighbourhood and Community Centres in NSW - Questionnaire - Bulleen & Onyx (1998)

This study surveyed 1,200 adults from five neighbourhood and community centres. Questions covered the following areas:
  • Feelings of trust and safety:
  • Tolerance of diversity;
  • Participation in the local community;
  • Neighbourhood connections;
  • Family and friends connections; and
  • Work connections.

2. Trust in Rural Communities Survey Questionnaire Centre for Research and Learning in Regional Australia (CRLRA) (1999)

This study which surveyed around 1,500 respondents in the towns of Donald and Charlton (Tasmania) collected data on:
  • Volunteering - groups individuals belong to, and the extent of group cooperation and achievement of objectives;
  • Confidence in the role of government and ability to deal effectively with local problems; and
  • Trust levels between people.

3. Global Social Capital Survey World Bank (1998)

This survey comprises questions which cover the following key themes:
  • The number and types of groups and networks of which individuals are members;
  • An assessment of subjective well-being;
  • Measures of political engagement;
  • Everyday social interactions;
  • Community activism including volunteering;
  • Relations with government measured by attitudes toward and trust in various government officials and institutions;
  • Violence and crime - levels of tension between groups, feelings of safety; and
  • Access to communications.

4. World Values Survey, 1981-1984 and 1990-93 - Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) (1999)

This survey's major themes include:
  • Various aspects of employment such as job satisfaction and pride;
  • Meaning and purpose of life - satisfaction with life, views on society, and religious activities and beliefs;
  • Family life - attitudes toward the family, marriage and divorce;
  • Contemporary political and social issues - opinions on various forms of political action and likelihood of individuals taking action; and
  • Levels of confidence in civil and government institutions.

5. National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating - Statistics Canada (1998)
Survey questions focus on:
  • Giving - factors associated with the giving of money and other resources to individuals and organisations;
  • Volunteering - factors associated with the volunteering of time to help others and to enhance communities; and
  • Participating - participation in the practices of active citizenship, including memberships in local associations, attendance at meetings and voting in elections.

6. UK Social Capital Questionnaire

This survey explores:
  • Quality of local community facilities and services;
  • Feelings of safety within the local community;
  • Participation in local organisations and solution of local problems;
  • Frequency of interactions with friends and families;
  • Who can individuals approach for assistance when they encounter financial, health or other problems; and
  • Other factors such as crime, graffiti, vandalism, traffic, parking and pollution.

7. UK Millennium Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey

This survey concentrates on the following areas:
  • Social networks and supports - contact with family and friends and the extent of support available in various health, family and life situations;
  • Local area deprivation - assessments of overall satisfaction with local area as a place to live;
  • Local services - the use and essential nature of local services provided by government and the private sector; and
  • Perceptions of crime and safety - including experiences and fear of crime.

8. Survey of Civic Involvement - American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) (1997)

This survey covers three broad themes:
  • Social involvement - factors such as visiting friends and neighbours;
  • Community attachment - sense of attachment to local community; and
  • Political involvement - involvement in local, state and national issues.

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Carol Kee
Health Section
Phone: 02-6252 6429
Fax: 02-6252 8007
Josie Barac
Health Section
Phone: 02-6252 6415
Fax: 02-6252 8007

Invitation to Provide Comment on Social Capital Issues Paper

Social capital is fast becoming a major issue for policy makers, researchers and service providers. Considerable research has been undertaken on social capital both within and outside of Australia. In response to this work we have produced a discussion paper on ABS role in collecting statistics on social capital.

The discussion paper "Measuring Social Capital: Present Collections and Future Directions" summarises relevant ABS data collections and outlines possible future directions for ABS work on social capital statistics. In order to facilitate comment and feedback, questions are posed throughout the discussion paper. Particular attention is drawn to the request for advice on the key social issues and policy questions which data on social capital data will inform. An understanding of data uses is a key input to setting priorities for further ABS work in this area.

Your assistance in bringing this paper to the attention of any of your colleagues who may have an interest in the development of social capital statistics would be appreciated. The paper is also being circulated through ABS user advisory and survey reference groups. Responses are sought by Friday 12 January 2001 and should be returned to: Carol Kee, Health Analysis and Reporting Section, Australian Bureau of Statistics, PO Box 10, Belconnen ACT 2616 Fax: (02) 6252 8007.

This paper is available on the ABS web site. If you require any further information please contact Jacqui Cristiano ((02) 6252 6183, In anticipation, thank you for your interest and input into this process.

Marion McEwin
Assistant Statistician
Social Statistics Branch

November 2000
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