Social Indicators Research

, Volume 142, Issue 3, pp 1015–1029 | Cite as

Revisiting Declines in Social Capital: Evidence from a New Measure

  • Inbar WeissEmail author
  • Pamela Paxton
  • Kristopher Velasco
  • Robert W. Ressler


In the late twentieth century, researchers began calling attention to declining social capital in America and the potential consequences of this trend for a healthy society. While researchers empirically assessed the decline in social capital from the mid-1900s onward, this line of research diminished when the major source of data, the General Social Survey, stopped fielding critical questions in 2004. We do not know, therefore, whether social capital, especially associational social capital, has declined, stabilized, or even increased in a twentyfirst century America. In this paper, we develop a new measure of associational social capital using a confirmatory factor analysis of six indicators from the Civic Engagement Supplement to the Current Population Survey for 2008–2011 and 2013. Our findings support previous research suggesting that associational social capital does not seem to be declining over time. However, we do find evidence of a nonlinear decrease in associating during the Great Recession years. Across the entire time period, though, membership in groups has not declined and there has been little practical change in the amount of time that individuals spend with neighbors. Our analysis of the variance of social capital also shows no general change in the national dispersion of social capital from 2008 to 2013. The paper advances the measurement of social capital and updates our understanding of its possible decline.


Social capital Associations Confirmatory factor analysis 



The authors acknowledge the support of grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) (201502185 PI: Paxton) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R24 HD42849, PI: Mark Hayward; T32 HD007081-35, PI: R. Kelly Raley) to the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Population Research CenterThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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