1504.0 - Methodological News, Mar 2009  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/03/2009   
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Developments in social capital measurement

Developing measures of social capital across individuals and communities has attracted a large amount of attention and policy interest. To assist such development, the ABS released in 2004 a comprehensive Social Capital Framework (cat. no. 1378.0) whereby social capital resources are classified into a number of network attributes, including network qualities (trust, efficacy, active involvement in groups, friendship), structure, transactions and types.

The enumeration of the 2006 General Social Survey (GSS) provides an important opportunity to explore a range of measures of social capital and see how they are related to each other. A research paper which explores measures of low social capital based on the framework above, and relies on GSS data, will be released in late March 2009. The paper describes the GSS social capital data items and the viability of using these person-level items to create composite measures of social capital.

The social capital data items from the 2006 GSS investigated in the paper involve various measures of trust, feelings of safety, feeling able to have a say on important issues, frequency of contact with ex-household family and friends, and the proportion of friends with similar characteristics. The paper analyses these data items to see how these items relate to each other, and provides some insight into how they could be meaningfully grouped together.

To explore measures of social capital, the paper addresses the following research questions:

    • What is the incidence of, and associations between, the social capital items?
    • Are there unobserved factors that explain the variance across the social capital data items?
    • Is it feasible to produce meaningful composite items from the dimensions of social capital?
    • How do the social capital measures vary across demographic groups?
The paper first reports the incidence of the GSS social capital data items, for the total (surveyed) population and by the subgroups: sex; age groups; time in current dwelling; country of birth (Australia and overseas); and remoteness of usual residence (major cities and regional/remote). Binary variables were extracted from these data items in order to create measures of 'low' social capital. Given that social capital theory suggests that there is more than one dimension of social capital, factor analysis was used to explore these underlying dimensions.

The results presented in the paper show that, although a single measure of social capital is useful in summarising the patterns across the population, there is sufficient variation to warrant a number of dimensions of social capital to be analysed separately. An upcoming paper will test the validity of the composite measures created in this paper in terms of their associations with aspects of well-being, and whether these associations remain after controlling for demographic characteristics.

For more information on this work, please contact Jonathon Khoo on (02) 6252 5506 or jonathon.khoo@abs.gov.au, or Jenny Myers on (02) 6252 6679 or jennifer.myers@abs.gov.au