Social capital and subjective well-being

2016-03-31-europe-energy-unionAnna Ermolina, PhD student, Russian Plekhanov University of Economics

This research aims to explore the importance of social capital for subjective well-being (SWB) in the late life in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. The study investigates (1) what forms of social capital have the most significant impact on SWB in the late life and (2) whether SWB benefits of social capital are individual or collective at the national level.

A large number of factors have been examined as the determinants of the elderly’s SWB. Along with gender, age, health, education and income, social integration and social relations are associated with high levels of SWB in the late life. Recent studies use a multidimensional concept of social capital including social networks, interpersonal trust, reciprocity. Social capital consists of structural and cognitive components. The structural dimension contains extent and intensity of associational links or activity whereas the cognitive component covers perceptions of support, reciprocity and trust.

There is still existing disagreement whether social capital is a collective attribute or an individual feature. Previous studies observe the outcomes of social capital both at the individual and aggregate levels but there is no clear explanation regarding their interaction.

This research is based on the European Social Survey (2012). Its sample consists of 8,867 individuals 50 years and over from Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Ukraine. The study adopts the multilevel approach of Subramanian et al. (2002) and Poortinga (2006) to explore cross-level interactions of social capital and happiness, life satisfaction and subjective health as SWB measures. A number of socio-demographic variables are included: age, sex, the number of household members, marital status, children living in a household, education, employment status, type of living area.

Structural component of social capital presents the elderly’s participation in political or voluntary organizations or events whereas cognitive component relates to social trust. Receiving and providing help from/close people are also considered as the part of social capital. Ordinal regression models are constructed for happiness, life satisfaction and subjective health. Multilevel regression procedures are used to model the two-level structure of individuals at the first level nested within 9 CEE countries at the second level.

Considering socio-demographic differences, the individual social trust and social activity are strongly associated with the elderly’s SWB. Receiving and providing help from/to close people both at the individual and national levels are also related to SWB in the late life. The beneficial effects of receiving/providing help from/to close people on subjective health seem to mainly apply to high-trust individuals. These results correspond to the findings of Subramanian et al. (2002) and Poortinga (2006) that social environment does not automatically lead to SWB. The outcomes of social capital are determined by individual characteristics, in particular social trust. Thus, more trusting individuals benefit from their social environment.

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