Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 1091–1114 | Cite as

Analyzing the Relationship Between Social Capital and Subjective Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Social Affiliation

  • Carola HommerichEmail author
  • Tim Tiefenbach
Research Paper


While previous studies have established social capital as an important determinant of subjective well-being (SWB), the broader social context people are living in has not received much attention in terms of SWB. To address this issue, we propose the concept of social affiliation, measuring the feeling of belonging to the social whole, of being a respected and valued member of society. In contrast to standard concepts of social capital, social affiliation is not related to an individual’s direct environment (‘Gemeinschaft’), but concerns one’s relation to society (‘Gesellschaft’). Such a subjective evaluation of how an individual feels within a broader societal context is neither covered by traditional concepts of social capital nor by the concept of social cohesion which focuses on the macro level. A perception of oneself as living on the margins of society, of not being a respected member of society, is very likely to diminish subjective well-being. At the same time, it can be expected to not be completely unrelated to individual resources of social capital. Drawing on unique survey data from Japan, we analyze the triangle relationship between social capital, social affiliation and subjective well-being applying a structural equation model. Our results have two main implications. First, we show that social affiliation has an effect on subjective well-being that is independent from the effect of standard measures of social capital. Second, we find that social capital influences social affiliation, and thereby also has an indirect effect on subjective well-being. In terms of theory building our results suggest that social embeddedness has two elements which should be measured separately: a community dimension usually measured as social capital in terms of trust, personal networks and norms, and a societal dimension of being and feeling part of a ‘Gesellschaft’, measured as social affiliation.


Social capital Social affiliation Subjective well-being Life satisfaction 



The survey used in this analysis was generously sponsored by the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ). We are grateful for the support. Any errors or opinions are ours alone.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The authors declare that the submitted work complies with the accepted principles of ethical and professional conduct in scientific research and that there are no conflicts of interest. The respondents participated voluntarily in the survey. Beforehand, they received information about the purpose of the study as well as about the institution commissioning the survey.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Letters, Department of SociologyHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan
  2. 2.German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ)TokyoJapan

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