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Soc Sci Med. 2012 Jan;74(2):202-10. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.10.025. Epub 2011 Dec 3.

Social capital and social inequality in adolescents' health in 601 Flemish communities: a multilevel analysis.

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Department of Public Health, University Hospital, Ghent University, Block A, De Pintelaan 185, 9000 Gent, Belgium.


Although it is widely acknowledged that community social capital plays an important role in young people's health, there is limited evidence on the effect of community social capital on the social gradient in child and adolescent health. Using data from the 2005-2006 Flemish (Belgium) Health Behavior among School-aged Children survey (601 communities, n = 10,915), this study investigated whether community social capital is an independent determinant of adolescents' perceived health and well-being after taking account of individual compositional characteristics (e.g. the gender composition within a certain community). Multilevel statistical procedures were used to estimate neighborhood effects while controlling for individual level effects. Results show that individual level factors (such as family affluence and individual social capital) are positively related to perceived health and well-being and that community level social capital predicted health better than individual social capital. A significant complex interaction effect was found, such that the social gradient in perceived health and well-being (i.e. the slope of family affluence on health) was flattened in communities with a high level of community social capital. Furthermore it seems that socioeconomic status differences in perceived health and well-being substantially narrow in communities where a certain (average) level of community social capital is present. This should mean that individuals living in communities with a low level of community social capital especially benefit from an increase in community social capital. The paper substantiates the need to connect individual health to their meso socioeconomic context and this being intrinsically within a multilevel framework.

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