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Social Capital and Subjective Wellbeing in Europe: A New Approach on Social Capital

Abstract

This paper aims to analyze the relationship between the various dimensions of social capital and subjective wellbeing. Data used in this study come from the fourth wave of the European Social Survey and different measures of wellbeing are used to take account of both the cognitive and affective processes of individual wellbeing (i.e. life satisfaction, happiness, and subjective wellbeing). A factor analysis is performed to summarize information coming from a large set of variables into different components corresponding to each dimension of social capital (i.e. networks, norms, and trust). Among the results, we find that the impact of social capital on subjective wellbeing differ depending on the component of social capital which is under analysis. In particular, social networks, social trust and institutional trust are the components that show a higher correlation with subjective wellbeing. Furthermore, in addition to the positive effects of the individual variables, our results suggest that social capital at the aggregate level positively correlates with individual wellbeing, thus pointing to an external or environmental effect of social capital.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although acknowledging differences between these concepts, the words happiness, life satisfaction and subjective wellbeing are often used as interchangeable in the economic literature (Frey and Stutzer 2002a). It is worth noting, however, that satisfaction with life is a component of subjective wellbeing, which in turn is generally seen as involving both cognitive and affective processes (Diener 1984; Veenhoven 1994; Diener et al. 2003).

  2. 2.

    For an extensive review on different explanations to the ‘Easterlin paradox’, see Clark et al. (2008). A complete study on the relationship between income and subjective wellbeing can also be found in Stevenson and Wolfers (2008).

  3. 3.

    Some exceptions are, among others, the works by Bjørnskov (2006, 2008), who consider three different components corresponding to social trust, social norms and associational activity in an empirical study at the macro level; or Sarracino (2010), who considers four set of proxies and distinguishes between intrinsically and extrinsically motivated group participation.

  4. 4.

    Argyle (1999) offers a comprehensive review of the effects of various individual and socio-demographic variables on subjective wellbeing. A more recent survey of the economic literature on the determinants of subjective wellbeing can be found in Dolan et al. (2008).

  5. 5.

    For detailed information on the ESS and on collected data, see http://www.europeansocialsurvey.org.

  6. 6.

    Prior to this analysis, a categorical principal component analysis has been performed given the ordinal and nominal nature of the variables. We then follow the procedure shown in this paper with the transformed variables coming from this preliminary analysis. This procedure is also adopted for the social norms dimension and for the global analysis presented henceforth.

  7. 7.

    The statistical summary of the variables used in this study is provided in the “Appendix”.

  8. 8.

    It is noteworthy that problems of endogeneity and reversed causality may be present in works based on cross-sectional survey data (for some methodological cautions in this literature see, for example, Helliwell and Putnam 2004). Although this can be the case regarding variables such as subjective health or social capital, different studies suggest that the causal relationship goes from these variables to subjective wellbeing (Graham 2008; Dolan et al. 2008). In any case, it should be noted that our focus is on correlations with subjective wellbeing and not on causality.

  9. 9.

    We thank an anonimous referee for discussion on this point.

  10. 10.

    Although not focusing on social relationships, previous empirical works also point to differences in subjective wellbeing depending on whether the individuals are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated (see, for example, Rojas 2007; or Salinas-Jiménez et al. 2010).

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Correspondence to Maria del Mar Salinas-Jiménez.

Appendix: Complete Results of the Principal Component Analysis

Appendix: Complete Results of the Principal Component Analysis

See Tables 5, 6, 7, 8.

Table 5 Factor loading matrix for the ‘trust’ dimension
Table 6 Factor loading matrix for the ‘networks’ dimension
Table 7 Factor loading matrix for the ‘norms’ dimension
Table 8 Descriptive statistics

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Portela, M., Neira, I. & Salinas-Jiménez, M.M. Social Capital and Subjective Wellbeing in Europe: A New Approach on Social Capital. Soc Indic Res 114, 493–511 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-012-0158-x

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Keywords

  • Social capital
  • Wellbeing
  • Networks
  • Norms
  • Trust
  • Factor analysis