Social Capital in Europe

Social Capital in Europe

A Comparative Regional Analysis

Emanuele Ferragina

The book investigates the determinants of social capital across 85 European regions capturing the renewed interest among social capital theorists for the importance of active secondary groups in supporting the correct functioning of society and its democratic institutions. Robert Putnam merged quantitative and historical analyses, suggesting that the lack of social capital in the south of Italy was mainly due to a peculiar historical development rather than being the product of a mix of structural socio-economic factors, a conclusion that has been the subject of fierce criticism and debate.

Chapter 6: Explaining social capital variation across Europe

Emanuele Ferragina

Subjects: politics and public policy, european politics and policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, sociology and sociological theory, urban and regional studies, regional studies


The previous chapters have illustrated: the measurement of social capital (Chapter 2); the historical, institutional and empirical reasons to complement the cross-national with a cross-regional analysis (Chapter 3); the social capital regional ranking and the categorization of European regions according to the density of formal social networks, informal social networks and social trust (Chapter 4); and the theoretical reasons to select income inequality, labour market participation, national divergence and the level of economic development to explain the variation of social capital across Europe (Chapter 5). This chapter is the focal point of the book, because it analyses the effect of the macro social variables on social capital and its dimensions, and selects the South of Italy and Wallonia as deviant cases for the in-depth historic-institutional analysis. The integration of the synchronic and diachronic analyses allows us to revisit Putnam’s hypothesis (1993), tackling simultaneously his lack of focus on the socio-economic conditions of society (Skocpol 1996; Skocpol et al. 2000; Knack and Keefer 1997; Costa and Kahn 2003; O’Connel 2003) and the excessive determinism of the historical analysis (Lupo 1993; Lemann 1996; Tarrow 1996). The impact of the independent variables on social capital and its dimensions is empirically tested using ordinary least square regressions (OLS) and evaluating their semistandardized coefficients and maximum impact. The analysis is completed by investigating in detail the effect of the level of economic development on social capital, dropping in rotation from the general OLS model the independent variables, that is, labour marke participation, economic inequality and national divergence.

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