Primary author: Amit Mirchandani


The current healthcare infrastructure in America is one of the worst in terms of its analysis of the cost-benefit relationship shared between the government and citizens and their respective roles in healthcare. Most would agree that the cost of healthcare is exceeding the benefits reaped by citizens/residents in this perspective. However, the social capital theory is constantly playing a role through the implementation of change and various strategies to provide a balance between the costs and benefits factors that apply to this theory. Social capital is defined as the “resources characterized by norms of reciprocity and social trust.” (Glanz, p.191).

In the context of public health in America it seems that social capital theory refers to the government’s role in the provision of resources based on a naturally resulting beneficiary relation involving a sense of ‘social’ trust with its citizens. One other way to view the text definition is the norms and networks that enable individuals to act collectively. (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000). Essentially social capital promotes the idea that the norms have always been accepted and should continue to be accepted in order for the benefit of all involved based on established understandings between the parties involved. In an attempt to support this idea, “Social capital has been defined as those features of social organization-such as the extent of interpersonal trust between citizens, norms of reciprocity, and density of civic associations-that facilitate cooperation for mutual benefit.” (Kawachi et. al, 1999).

Social capital theory is applied in a variety of ways in a variety of areas or professions. In a way, social capital is a binary relationship in which two elements are constantly interacting with each other in order to promote development and progress and the ‘social trust’ factor that naturally goes with it. Without one element, the effects of the other are in essence, nullified. The two elements must work ‘collectively’ in order for the effect to be noticed. Going back to the public health context, there is a cost and benefit relationship that primarily dictates the interactions between government entities and American citizens and there are certain standards that both are expected to meet in order for disputes to be settled and the advantage of opportunities to be taken. These mutual interactions between the government and the general public allow and promote development and progress economically and in more other ways - which is very critical for changes in the U.S. healthcare infrastructure. “Social capital has been claimed to be important for the enhancement of government performance and the functioning of democracy, for the prevention of crime and delinquency, and, more recently, for the maintenance of population health.” (Kawachi et. al, 1999)

The World Bank Research Observer is a reader’s digest that publishes articles through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development which is composed of several countries (including the United States) along with other developing countries and attempts to educate and inform readers who may or may not be fully aware about the measures taken for economic and development purposes. To better understand how the social capital theory is implemented, an article Social Capital: Implications for Development Theory, Research and Policy, published by this digest provides a real-life example of the implementation or mechanism of this theory through the use of a realistic scenario. “If [an individual comes] into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living condition in the whole community.” (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000).

I believe that this quote was a good choice to use for my chosen topic because it effectively conveys the message that in general, through our networks, through the people we meet by establishing relationships with others on a daily bases through various encounters, we humans tend to share thoughts with others alike. Our views are shared by people we are around everyday. In a public health context, this quote can effectively help understand how people communicate with each other to bring about the desired overall behavior. Taking into account today's highly criticized and known poor healthcare infrastructure social capital helps people come together in an effort to bring about the necessary change so that everyone involved can have access to the right of receiving quality treatment for their health related issues. Though this involves a lot of politics and though there are many different views and perspectives, social capital can help establish and maintain a sense of uniform balance in various aspects.

Woolcock, M., & Narayan, D. (2000). Social Capital: Implications for Development Theory, Research , and Policy.The World Bank Research Observer, 15(2), 228-229.

Glanz, K., Rimer, B., & Viswanath, K. (2008). The Scope of Health Behavior and Health Education. Health Behavior and Health Education(4 ed., p. 191). San Franciso, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B., & Glass, R. (1999). Social Capital and Self-Rated Health: A Contextual Analysis. American Journal of Public Health, 89 (8), 1187-93.