Measuring Social Cohesion: An Experiment using the Canadian National Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating


Social cohesion is a concept difficult to define and to measure. As there can be many definitions, so there can be many measurements. The main problem, either in defining or measuring the concept, is its multilevel and multidimensional nature. At one extreme, country is the most commonly used level to view social cohesion but measurement at this level is of little use for any interventions. At the other extreme, community is the most useful level but it is a social construct for which data are difficult to get, given the administrative boundaries used in social surveys. As an initial attempt to measure social cohesion at a subcountry level, this study focuses on census metropolitan areas for which data on several dimensions of social cohesion are available. We use the information gathered by the National Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP) on three dimensions of social cohesion: political (voting and volunteering), economic (occupation, income, labour force participation) and social (social interactions, informal volunteering). Using statistical techniques including factor analysis and standardization, we create an overall index of social cohesion for each CMA. We point out use of this measure for further analysis of social dynamics.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Berger-Schmidt R. (2000). Social Cohesion as an Aspect of the Quality of Societies: Concept and Measurement. European Union Reporting Working Paper No.14. Centre for Survey Research and Methodology (ZUMA), Mannheim

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bernard P. (1999). Social Cohesion: A Critique. Canadian Policy Research Network, Discussion Paper No.F-09, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  3. Blakeley, R.: 1997, Social Capital and Public Policy Development. New Zealand Minister. As summarized in the Social Capital Database at the World Bank web site

  4. Bollen K. A. and Hoyle R. H. (1990). Perceived cohesion: A conceptual and empirical examination. Social Forces 69: 479–504

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Buckner J.C. (1988). The development of an instrument to measure neighbourhood cohesion. American Journal of Community Psychology 16: 771–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Burke, M. and J. Shields: 1999, The Job-poor Recovery: Social Cohesion and the Canadian Labour Market. A Research Report of the Ryerson Social Reporting Network. Ryerson Polytechnic University. Available on the internet at

  7. Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: 2000, Indices of Deprivation 2000. Available on the internet at

  8. (1998). The Problem of Solidarity: Theories and Models. Gordon and Bleach Publishers, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  9. Durkheim E. (1893 (1965)). The Division of Labor in Society. Trans. by George Simpson. The Free Press, New York, 64

    Google Scholar 

  10. Freeman L.C. (1992). The social concept of “Group”: An empirical test of two models. American Journal of Sociology 98: 152–166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Fukuyama, F.: 1995, Social capital: The problem of measurement. Available from the World Bank Group at

  12. Hirschfield A. and Bowers K.J. (1997). The effects of social cohesion on levels of recorded crime in disadvantaged areas. Urban Studies 34: 1275–1295

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Jensen J. (1998). Mapping Social Cohesion: The State of Canadian Research. Canadian Policy Research Network, Study No.F-03, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  14. Kearns A. and Forrest R. (2000). Social cohesion and multilevel urban governance. Urban Studies 37: 995–1017

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Knack, S. and P. Keefer: 1997, ‘Does social capital have an economic payoff? A cross-country investigation,’ Quarterly Journal of Economics 1997, 1251–1288

  16. Lavis J. and Stoddart G. (1999). Social Cohesion and Health. Working Paper No. 99–09 of Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

    Google Scholar 

  17. Maxwell, J.: 1996, Social Dimensions of Economic Growth, Eric John Hanson Memorial Lecture Series, Vol. VIII, University of Alberta

  18. McCracken M. (1998). Social Cohesion and Macroeconomic Performance. Paper presented at the CSLS Conference on the State of Living Standards and the Quality of Life in Canada, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  19. McPherson J.M. and Smith-Lovin L. (1986). Sex aggregation in voluntary associations. American Sociological Review 51: 61–79

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Moody J. and White D.R. (2003). Social cohesion and embeddedness: A hierarchical conception of social groups. American Journal of Sociology 68: 103–127

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Myles, J., G. Picot and W. Pyper: 2000, Neighbourhood inequality in Canadian cities. Paper presented at the Canadian Economics Association Meetings and CERF Conference, June 2000, Vancouver. Paper available from Statistics Canada at

  22. Mudrack P.E. (1989). Defining group cohesiveness: A legacy of confusion. Small Group Behaviour 20: 37–49

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Putnam R. (1995). Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy 6: 65–78

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Portes A. (1998). Social capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annual Review of Social Sciences 24: 1–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Rosell S.A. (1995). Changing Maps: Governing in a World of Rapid Change. Carleton University Press, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  26. Sennett R. (1998). The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. Norton & Co, New York, 24

    Google Scholar 

  27. Stanley D. (1997). The Economic Consequences of Social Cohesion. SRFA-302, Heritage Canada

    Google Scholar 

  28. Stanley, D.: 2003, What Do We Know About Social Cohesion: The Research Perspective of the Federal Government’s Social Cohesion Research Network

  29. Thomas D. (1999). Indicators of Social Cohesion in Canada. Statistics Canada, Ottawa

    Google Scholar 

  30. Woolley, F.: 1998, Social cohesion and voluntary activities: making connections. Conference on the state of living standards and the quality of life in Canada, Ottawa, Centre for the Study of Living Standards, October 30–31

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Fernando Rajulton.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Rajulton, F., Ravanera, Z.R. & Beaujot, R. Measuring Social Cohesion: An Experiment using the Canadian National Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating. Soc Indic Res 80, 461–492 (2007).

Download citation


  • latent scores
  • national survey of giving
  • social cohesion
  • structural equation modeling
  • volunteering and participating