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Am J Public Health. 1999 Aug;89(8):1187-93.

Social capital and self-rated health: a contextual analysis.

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  • 1Department of Health and Social Behavior, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass. 02115, USA.



Social capital consists of features of social organization--such as trust between citizens, norms of reciprocity, and group membership--that facilitate collective action. This article reports a contextual analysis of social capital and individual self-rated health, with adjustment for individual household income, health behaviors, and other covariates.


Self-rated health ("Is your overall health excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?") was assessed among 167,259 individuals residing in 39 US states, sampled by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Social capital indicators, aggregated to the state level, were obtained from the General Social Surveys.


Individual-level factors (e.g., low income, low education, smoking) were strongly associated with self-rated poor health. However, even after adjustment for these proximal variables, a contextual effect of low social capital on risk of self-rated poor health was found. For example, the odds ratio for fair or poor health associated with living in areas with the lowest levels of social trust was 1.41 (95% confidence interval = 1.33, 1.50) compared with living in high-trust states.


These results extend previous findings on the health advantages stemming from social capital.

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