Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Social Capital, Racial Diversity, and Equity: Evaluating the Determinants of Equity in the United States

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Social Capital, Racial Diversity, and Equity: Evaluating the Determinants of Equity in the United States

Article excerpt


Robert Putnam's work suggests social capital is compatible with social equality, while Rodney Hero argues the two are inversely related. Hero and Putnam, however, are limited in their arguments because they have only cross-sectional data and their theoretical arguments imply dynamic relationships over time. We create a state-level social capital index and a measure of racial diversity that varies over time and across states. We use multivariate models to determine whether social capital or racial diversity better predicts levels of policy equity. We find that social capital detrimentally affects policy equity and racial diversity is positively associated with policy equity.


social capital, diversity, policy equity, political culture, race and ethnicity

One of the more innovative and controversial concepts introduced to the study of politics and policy is the notion of social capital. Putnam's (2000) work documents a decline in social capital and relates social capital to a wide range of public policies at the level of the American states. Hero (2003a; 2003b, 2007) stresses racial diversity and challenges the benefits of social capital by focusing on questions of equity; he argues that social capital might provide overall benefits to citizens living in a high-socialcapital community but that these benefits will be maldistributed in racially diverse political systems. Although both arguments rely heavily on dynamic elements-that is, social capital and racial diversity change over time-both were restricted to empirical analyses on a cross-section of U.S. states, thus making it difficult to separate the concepts and limiting the types of possible analysis.

This article seeks to address the issues in the Putnam- Hero debate by building dynamic measures of both social capital and racial diversity. First, the literature on social capital and racial diversity will be reviewed. Second, using a wide range of data sets including original marketing surveys, we will construct and validate measures of social capital and racial diversity. Third, each will be used along with a variety of other factors known to influence policy to study racial equity in education, criminal justice, and health care, focusing on both African Americans and Latinos.

The Social Capital Thesis

In its simplest form, social capital can be said to refer to "connections among individuals" or, in other words, "social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them" (Putnam 2000, 19). One of Putnam's (2000) central arguments is that at the individual level, engagement within the community is associated with more tolerant attitudes, while social isolation tends to be joined with intolerance. Putnam's (2000, 469, n. 9) own review of the literature concludes that while not all studies have found a positive relationship between civic engagement and tolerance, not one has established a negative relationship. Verba, Schlozman, and Brady's (1995) influential study, for example, demonstrates that civic engagement (e.g., attendance at community meetings) is linked with increased political tolerance, although nonsocial forms of political participation (e.g., contacting a government official) are not. One exception to this trend is participation in religious organizations, which may be associated with lower levels of political tolerance (Beatty and Walter 1984).

One of Putnam's central theses is that social capital can have "externalities" that go beyond the individual and affect the larger community. Extending this argument to the state level, Putnam observes that residents of highsocial- capital states tend to express higher levels of support for racial integration, gender equality, and civil liberties than residents of low-social-capital states. As Putnam (2000, 356) states, "Far from being incompatible, liberty and fraternity are mutually supportive. . . . The most tolerant communities in America are precisely the places with the greatest civic involvement. …

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