Study shows regional increase in social capital, civic engagement
The news is mixed in a report recently released by Missouri State University’s department of sociology and anthropology. The report, “Social Capital and Civic Participation in the Ozarks: Summary of Findings from the Ozarks Regional Social Capital Survey,” shows an improvement in several areas of civic engagement, but also a trend toward inequality in participation.
The study’s authors are sociology professors Drs. Michael Stout, John B. Harms and Tim Knapp.
“The results of the study show that there has been a significant increase in social capital and civic engagement in Springfield and Greene County since 2008, which is surprising given the economic troubles that we were experiencing over that time period,” said Stout.
Social capital exists when members of a community have networks of trusting mutual relationships with others. According to the report, networks like these are valuable because they provide people and communities with access to a variety of resources, including information, economic opportunity, better education, public safety, public health and citizen participation in community affairs.
“However, the results were not entirely positive as there is some cause for concern that there is increasing inequality in civic participation in our community. A deeper look into the data has revealed that the increases in social capital and civic engagement were primarily concentrated among people from more advantaged backgrounds, and that there was no change in levels of social capital or civic participation among the less advantaged, whose levels of community involvement were already significantly lower than their more advantaged peers in 2008.”
This report is a follow-up to a 2008 study, which found that Greene County and the City of Springfield had higher levels of social capital than the national average, but also lower levels of civic participation and trust in local government. The findings raised the question of how high levels of social capital could be accompanied by low levels of civic participation.
“The second survey revealed that low civic engagement was associated with a lack of bridging social capital or connections to diverse others; for example, people involved with more diverse networks were more civically engaged,” said Harms.
“Thus, to address the problem of civic engagement our community must invest in bridging social capital by providing opportunities for people to participate in diverse networks.”
Other key findings when comparing the 2008 and 2010 surveys include:
- increase in Greene County’s social capital
- trust increased more than voluntary group membership
- trust in local government increased, but less than trust in police, neighbors, stores and local media
- positive changes in trust were found in groups with high levels of income, education and occupational prestige
“Given the recent increases in poverty, diversity and ‘brain drain’ in the region, and the challenges that they pose, we found that one strategy for meeting those challenges would be to provide less advantaged residents with more opportunities to participate in diverse civic groups,” said Knapp.
The complete report is available online at sociology.missouristate.edu/141406.htm.
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