It makes no sense to measure an individual's social capital.' In this case Putnam's argument for the importance of social capital for health is based on analogies to individual-level processes, rather than by more direct evidence.
At best one could hypothesize that social support at the individual level might be enhanced by a community's social capital.
Here we present an overview of Putnam's claims, their supporting evidence, and we draw several consequences of the BA hypothesis for epidemiology and public health.
We argue that the omission of class, race and gender relations and political variables from research on community trust and norms of reciprocity limits the usefulness of social capital as framework for social epidemiology.
Putnam's position on the link between social capital and health is perhaps best revealed where he states, ‘The bottom line from this multitude of studies: as a rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year (emphasis in the original).
If you smoke and belong to no groups, it's a toss up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining.In addition, we are unaware of any study that has shown that the act of joining a group conferred the same health protective effect as not smoking. social support, social isolation) are associated with mortality, morbidity, and the progression of disease, notably from chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disorders.However, even if lack of social support or social isolation had strong effects on a variety of health outcomes, these psychosocial constructs cannot be equated with social capital as defined above—which is as a community, not individual, characteristic.Several of these putative causes of declining social capital and health (e.g.welfare state) have been precisely associated with a reduction in social inequalities in health.Among them he lists work related time pressure, economic hardship, women's access to the paid labour force and its effects on the family, residential mobility, suburban sprawl, technological revolution in communications, change in the structure and scale of the economy (chain stores, service sector…), and disruption of marriage.Interestingly, Putnam also includes as potentially all playing a role in the decline of social capital in America (emphasis added).Thus, even if we accept that there has been decline in trust and norms of reciprocity in US communities, we still lack convincing explanations as to how this happened, other than to somewhat vague references to ‘generational change'.In addition, it should be recognized that there have been a number of recent studies using data from the last decades that directly challenge the BA hypothesis. The evidence on the decline of social capital in America remains disputed by contradictory findings and the use of different indicators of social capital across studies.Thus, Putnam's central claim about the decline of social capital is far from resolved.Let us assume for the moment that Putnam's claims concerning the decline in US social capital during the last four decades of the 20th century are accurate.