It makes sense that trust in corporations and government would plummet after a devastating global recession. But the idea of social capital–a concept that the World Bank started researching in the ‘90s–is a much bigger societal force than just faith in institutions. In one sense, social capital is a basic feature of democracy, the soil that nurtures people working together towards a common goal. In a neighborhood, for example, it could be the likelihood that your neighbors know you and have your back. Yet as Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam explained in his 2000 book Bowling Alone, social capital is on the decline and has been for several decades.
There are lots of theories as to why. But when San Diego State University social scientist Jean Twenge started poking around for clues, she came across a strange and consistent link: Over the last 40 years, certain measures of social capital have fallen during periods of high income inequality and poverty.
Still, Twenge’s research, published in the journal Psychological Science, can’t prove that income inequality causes the erosion of social capital. It could be the other way around–that, somehow, less social capital leads to more income inequality. There could also be a slew of factors, like new technologies or human conflict, that drive the dips in social capital instead.
Read the whole story: Fast Company