Social Capital in Britain
In his influential 1999 article, ‘Social Capital in Britain', Peter Hall1 offers Britain as a counter-example to Robert Putnam's analysis of declining social capital in the United States. This article draws on subsequent data sets to update Hall's assessment of the levels of social capital in Britain. It offers a generally less optimistic appraisal. European Values Survey data for Britain indicates that the decline in social trust between 1990 and 1995 paralleled US figures, and that levels of social trust appeared to plateau between 1995 and 1999. The article argues that distributional issues are critical to the assessment of social capital in Britain, and that levels of both participation and trust show persistent and even growing splits by social class. It suggests that there are relevant influences which were not fully considered by Hall, such as the changing nature of associational life and the rise in income inequality during the 1980s. In order for Britain to enjoy robust levels of social capital, policies must address these social divisions. Furthermore, previously ignored arenas such as the workplace and opportunities presented by new communication technologies may be particularly fruitful for the future development of social networks and trust in Britain.
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