Erie Vital Signs

Social Capital: Social Capital Analysis

Recent Performance

Erie is doing better than its peers.

Measures of social capital in Erie County are generally higher or comparable with peer counties and the U.S. as a whole. Erie County residents are exceptionally social. More than half (58%) have visited or been visited by a relative at least twice per month during the past twelve months, while 60% had friends to their home at least once a month during the same time period. Forty-two percent get together at least once per month with others to play cards or board games, and 28% socialized with coworkers at least once per month. Not surprisingly, faith-based engagement among Erie County residents is high. More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents indicated that they were a member of a church, synagogue or other religious/spiritual community, and 52% have taken part in some activity, such as bible study, associated with a church during the past twelve months.

Perhaps the one area where Erie can improve is civic and political engagement, which has long been recognized as a key indicator of the civic health of a community. While Erie has relatively high voter registration and turnout, other forms of democratic participation, such as signing petitions, attending rallies, working on a community project, and attending a march, are practiced by far fewer Erie County residents. Two-thirds of survey respondents had never attended a public meeting involving town or school affairs.


The Basics

Social capital is defined as the networks of relationships among people who live in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively. The social trust index is a percent rating showing how much residents trust other people. The diversity of friendship index is a percent rating indicating how diverse residents’ personal friendships are. The civic and political engagement index is a percent rating indicating how involved in politics and community projects residents are. The faith-based engagement index is a percent rating indicating how involved in faith-based activities residents are. The diversity of formal group involvement index is a percent rating indicating how diverse residents’ group affiliations are. The informal social interaction index is a percent rating showing how much social interaction residents have. The organized group interaction index is a percent rating showing how much involvement residents have with organized groups.

Why It's Important

Measuring social capital can reveal a variety of different things, showing the nature and dynamics of relationships of the people in Erie County. Communities with high levels of social capital are more likely to have higher educational achievement, faster economic growth, and less crime and violence. In areas with greater social connectedness, there will be higher volunteer rates and voter participation as these are actions that people take part in when they are involved in their community.

The Details

The indexes measuring social trust, informal social interaction, and organized group interaction are calculated by taking the average of individual survey responses, and then converting them into a percentage of the highest score of the index.

The indexes measuring diversity of friendship, civic and political engagement, faith-based engagement, and diversity of formal group involvement are calculated by taking “yes” or “no” survey responses. The responses are added together, and then individual totals are averaged and expressed as a percentage of the maximum score.

The Nitty-Gritty Details

Mercyhurst University, Erie County Social Capital and Civic Engagement Benchmark Study, March 2011.

Subcategories

Social capital is measured by calculating indexes for the following subcategories: social trust; diversity of friendships; civic and political engagement; faith-based engagement; diversity of formal group involvement; informal social interaction; and organized group interaction.

Peer Areas

Data are not available for the thirteen Erie Vital Signs peer areas in 2011. However, some limited data are available for selected counties and the U.S. in 2006.

Frequency

The data for Erie are from a one-time survey conducted by Mercyhurst University in 2011.

Source

Mercyhurst University, Erie County Social Capital and Civic Engagement Benchmark Study, March 2011.

Additional Studies and Research

Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey
Roper Center, 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey
Robert D. Putnam and Lewis Feldstein, Better Together
Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone

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