English title: The Social Capital of Welfare States and Its Significance for Population Health

Author(s): Mikael Rostila -

Language: English

Type: Book chapter

Year: 2013


The Nordic welfare model, characterized by comprehensive welfare programs and generous welfare benefits, is suggested to provide several positive externalities for society and its citizens. Many of the features of the universal Nordic welfare state, such as low income inequality and poverty, could, however, also be important for the creation and maintenance of social capital. Nevertheless, there are also fears that features of universal welfare states deplete social capital. Although previous studies show that social capital is strongly related to health and well-being most previous research in the field of social capital and health has focused on pure associations and ignored the significance of the broader institutional and political context for the creation and maintenance of social capital and its potential health consequences. Using findings from cross-national European data from the European Social Survey (ESS), a first objective of this chapter is to scrutinize whether there are theoretical and empirical support that favors the “crowding out” hypothesis. Another objective of this chapter is to show some empirical evidence concerning whether levels of social capital in countries with different institutional characteristics and welfare policy also promote the overall health of societies. The empirical data presented in the chapter chiefly shows that comprehensive welfare states do not seem to crowd out social capital. Universal welfare states of the Nordic model has the highest levels of social capital while lower levels were found in less comprehensive welfare states such as the Mediterranean and post-socialist countries. Positive correlations between total spending on social protection and levels of social capital also confirmed these findings, that is, countries that spend more on social protection have higher levels of social capital. Furthermore, some final empirical findings in the chapter suggested that dimensions of social capital were associated with life expectancy at country level. Hence, countries with higher levels of social capital seem to have better population health. The analyses for instance suggested that countries included in the post-socialist regime type generally had low levels of social capital and low life expectancy, while social-democratic countries had very high levels of social capital and high life expectancy. By studying the significance of the welfare state for the social capital–health relationship, policy-makers could learn a great deal about how investments in equality and social goods (e.g., welfare) could influence social capital and its potential health consequences.

From page no: 277

To page no: 305

Anthology: Global perspectives on social capital and health

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