Aug 11, 2023 2 min read

How Good Are the Social Connections in Your Community?

Friends sharing pizza and coffee together

Can building better and stronger social connections help individuals in your community achieve the American Dream?

NEWS FLASH: It can! Let's see how.

We'll start with a brief discussion of Economic Mobility. If the concept of economic mobility is new to you, it is defined as people's ability to improve their economic status over the course of their lifetimes. Basically, it's the ability to achieve the American Dream.

If you've been a student of Raj Chetty's work on Economic Mobility, as I have, you probably know that Chetty's research suggests five key factors as being highly correlated to economic mobility:

  • Family Structure
  • Income Inequality
  • School Quality
  • Residential Segregation, and
  • Social Capital

In today's post, we're going to share some fairly recent insights on the factor of social capital.

At The Inclusive Community, we've talked about social capital before. Social Capital is that ineffable thing that the Oxford Dictionary defines as:

the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.

If you've been following us for a while, you may remember that Emma and I talked about social capital in Episode 50: Preparing the Community Soil.

In Episode 14: Achieving Economic Mobility for Charlotte, Sherri Chisolm talked about her team's work to both understand and improve social capital.

Also, in a recent newsletter titled: Both, And..., we discussed Damon Centola's Book: How to Make Big Things Happen, and the critical role social networks play in making complex change happen.

Still, the concept of social capital has always been somewhat difficult for social scientists to define and even more difficult to measure, especially at the community level. That is until pretty recently.

Thanks again to Raj Chetty and the Opportunity Insights team, we now have ways to better define social capital along with a better understanding of how it is linked to economic mobility. And, they've also given us the Social Capital Atlas, a tool to visualize and understand social capital in our own communities and across the country.

The Brookings Institution summed up the findings of Chetty's recent research on social capital this way:

The findings are striking and certain to have a profound impact on discussions of economic mobility. The headline finding is that at the community level, cross-class connections boost social mobility more than anything else, including racial segregation, economic inequality, educational outcomes, and family structure.

If you want to see where your community stands, use the Social Capital Atlas to explore the findings about your community.

Sadly, my community of Greenville, S.C. does not fare very well. In Greenville, we've know for some time that our local economic mobility ranking was very poor. Now we have a new tool to help us understand a little better how the social connections in our community contribute to poor economic mobility. I'm hopeful that information can help us identify opportunities for progress.

Good luck in building and strengthening the social capital in your own community.

Additional Resources:

Non-technical research summary outlining Chetty and team's findings.

Article that explores this subject by asking 5 key questions of social capital researcher Johannes Stroebel.

Analysis of this research by Richard Reeves and Coura Fall from the Brookings Institution.

Thanks for reading. If you're interested in building a more inclusive community and world, I'm sure you know others who are too. Please share this newsletter with a colleague or friend.

This newsletter is a publication from State of Inclusion.

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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