Jorge Sánchez Canales.


Nowadays, the concept of social capital has increased its popularity amongst the multiple social sciences. In this post, I understand social capital as the networks of social relationships that are established by mutual trust, and that results in benefits for every part. Even though this term also would include the more institutional and structural relationships that are given within the system, I decided to focus this study on the social perception. Anyway, social capital is understood as capital because in a way contributes to achieve the best development for a society. As an example, access to employment is greatly facilitated by it, but also having someone to look after your children whenever is an emergency would also be included amongst the benefits of counting with a well-established social capital.

Regarding social capital, it is crucial to determinate the reasons why people identify the other as a trustworthy moral subject. In this sense, I think there is a remarkable debate, which has been central for many years before the term social capital was consolidated: the question of whether a good civic culture could be enough to play the traditional role of religion as the element that builds solidarity. Thereby, I have decided to compare the indicators of social capital with the social factors identified as key by socialism and conservativism: labour and religion, respectively.

Specifically, I put in relation the social capital of different countries from the European Union with the occupancy rates and the percentage people that practice any religion. In order to measure social capital, I developed an index[1] based on the data from the European Survey System (ESS), as the entire data distribution wasn’t suitable; this way it is possible to order the countries by their results in the survey. The data used measuring religion were also from the ESS, while the data concerning unemployment were from the World Bank.


The first graph shows clearly the contrary tendencies between social capital and unemployment[2], which implies that, indeed, there is a correlation between trust and labour. It is no surprise, as social capital is supposed to generate employ. Moreover, it seems reasonable for people to be more prone to trust the rest of society when they feel that effort is shared equally. Even though the Spanish and Italian data seems to break the tendency, I think this might be due to the rapid increase of unemployment because of the 2008 crisis. Thus, a new thesis arises. The level of trust, despite being related to labour, is also related to many other factors and it takes a while to adapt to the new level of employ. This takes us to the next graph.

It presents Poland’s chronological analysis of the social capital and unemployment rates. There is no social capital data prior to 2002, but we can still reach some conclusions. The social capital rate is responsive to the movements of the unemployment one, but practically both rates move simultaneously. At first, we see a descend in social capital, which could correspond -or explain- the rising unemployment of the previous years. In the moment that the last one begins to drop, social capital goes up again.

Finally, we move on to discuss the graph that puts in relation the social capital rate with the percentage of inhabitants that consider themselves to be religious by that time. In this case, the results were completely surprising, as religion is precisely one of the main examples when we talk about factors which contribute to promote social capital. However, this third graphics shows just the opposite: the countries counting with more religious people present a lower lever of trust. Again, there is an exception: Denmark’s results break the tendency, but, same as before, it is convenient to keep in mind that there are many factors that influence social capital.


The conclusions drawn from this investigation are, in my opinion, quite relevant. On one side, the correlation between social capital and employment is clear, which can lead us to think that there is a correlation between labour and social capital, thus verifying the thesis. The higher the occupancy rate, the greater social capital. On the other side, we found just the opposite: the greater religious population, the lesser social capital. But I would like to go deeper into the analysis of religion given the facts of the investigation.

The fall of the Soviet Union was largely due to the loss of the revolutionary sentiment that was, without a doubt, the triumph of collectivism. Václav Havel, who was president of the Czech Republic, explains in his Power of the Powerless how the civil religion that emerged in the USSR around the Party and the myth of work was decisive in its fall: nobody believed it. This is one of the historical arguments that I take under consideration to state, regarding the original thesis, that it would not be fair to simply say that trustworthiness of society is built upon the common responsibility of labour.[3]

On the other hand, what the graphs show us is that the fact of having many religious population does not contribute to the promotion of social capital, but the opposite. I believe that this is because there is no social cohesion around religion, as religion is seen in the Western world as a private practice. In addition, the variety of religions that the migratory flow has brought on has led in many occasions to intolerance among the religious communities which were already settled -Christians, here in Europe-.



Consulted bibliography

  • Araten-Bergman, T., y Ashley Stein, M. «Employment, Social Capital, and Community Participation among Israelis with Disabilities». Work (Reading, Mass.) 48, n.o 3 (2014): 381-90.
  • Havel, V. The Power of the Powerless, 1979.
  • Hobsbawm, E. Historia del siglo XX. Traducido por Juan Faci, Jordi Ainaud, y Carme Castells. 1.a ed. Barcelona: Crítica, 2011.
  • Inglehart, R. El Cambio Cultural En Las Sociedades Industriales Avanzadas. Madrid: CIS, 1991.
  • Xue, L. Social capital and employment entry of recent immigrants to Canada. LSIC: Citizenship and Immigration, 2008.



[1] The question of the survey that I took as reference goes from “Most people can be trusted” (10) to “You can’t be too careful” (0). Between these two statements, the survey has also answers from 1 to 9. To make the index, I made the summation of each answer (from 0 to 10) multiplied by the percentage of people that gave that answer and divided it by ten, thus having a rate from 0 to 100% of “social capital”.

[2] The data used in the graphs is from 2014, except for Italy’s both indicators, which are form 2012.

[3] Araten-Bergman y Stein, «Employment, Social Capital, and Community Participation among Israelis with Disabilities».