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Social Capital in Europe from 1990 to 2012: Trends and Convergence

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As social capital affects many social and economic outcomes, it is important to monitor its changes over time. This study uses WVS-EVS integrated data (1990–2012) to describe the trends of 8 proxies of social capital in 30 Western and Eastern European countries. We found positive trends of trust in others, confidence in public services, and in armed forces; negative trends of participation in groups and associations, and of confidence in political institutions; mixed trends of civic cooperation, and of confidence in religious and empowering institutions. We also found evidence that over time the differences in social capital among European countries predominantly increased (\(\sigma\)-convergence). These differences are not explained by differences in the initial stocks of social capital (\(\beta\)-convergence).

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  1. This index follows the work by Knack and Keefer (1997), and should not be confused with the “index of civicness” developed by Putnam et al. (1993).

  2. Data from the 1980s are not included because they cover exclusively Western countries.

  3. The information on factor loadings is available in Table 5 in the Appendix. To preserve the original scaling of the variables, we created the indexes by computing the mean of the variables loading strongly on particular factors.


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We gratefully acknowledge the support of LCSR National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russian Federation. The article was prepared within the framework of a subsidy granted to the HSE by the Government of the Russian Federation for the implementation of the Global Competitiveness Program. We thank Stefano Bartolini, Ronald Inglehart, Chris Welzel, Eduard Ponarin, Chris Swader and the colleagues of the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (Russia), of the GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences (Germany) and of STATEC (Luxembourg) for their useful comments and constant support. We also wish to acknowledge the fruitful comments received by three anonymous reviewers. The usual disclaimers apply.

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Correspondence to Francesco Sarracino.



1.1 Factor Loadings

See Table 5.

Table 5 Factor loadings and unique variances (pooled sample)

The factor analysis applied to 11 measures of confidence in institutions identifies four dimensions of confidence in institutions. According to the factor loadings prevalent in each factor (marked in bold face), we built four synthetic indexes of confidence in institutions. The indexes are built as follows:

  • confidence in public services (factor 1): civil services, social security system, health care system, and justice system;

  • confidence in political institutions (factor 2): parliament, government, and political parties;

  • confidence in armed forces and police (factor 3): armed forces, and police;

  • confidence in empowering institutions (factor 4): press, and labour unions.

1.2 Trends by Country

See Tables 6 and 7.

Table 6 Trends (average change per 10 years) of participation in groups and associations, trust in others, and index of civic cooperation
Table 7 List of the trends (coefficients and their significance) of confidence in various institutions by country

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Sarracino, F., Mikucka, M. Social Capital in Europe from 1990 to 2012: Trends and Convergence. Soc Indic Res 131, 407–432 (2017).

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