Methods: We use multiple linear regression to control for a variety of factors that community engagement is likely correlated with, including: age, gender, minority status, and income. An interaction term was then added to assess how length of time residing in a community moderates the impact of different levels of community engagement on estimated average social capital across urban, suburban, and rural areas.
Data: The Soul of the Community Study was conducted over three years (2006-2010) in 26 different communities across the United States and utilized a cross-sectional design. This project uses data from the third year only (2010), and included individuals ages 18 and over. The final sample for this study was n = 12,497.
Measures: A resident selected definition of their community was used to assign observations to urban, suburban, or rural categories. The outcome, social capital was measured as an average of reported number of friends in the area, number of family members in the area, number of memberships in groups meeting monthly, and amount of interaction with neighbors. Community engagement was measured as high (participated in that activity over the past 12 months) or low (not participated in that activity over the past 12 months).
Results: Individuals reported lower social capital in high participation groups when compared to low participation in community engagement activities across urban, suburban, and rural areas. However, for some activities, the effect of community engagement depended on the number of years lived in the community. This effect was observed to vary across community type. In urban areas, this interaction was associated with an increase in social capital and high levels of working with others. In rural areas, increases in the length of time an individual had lived in the community was associated with lower levels of social capital, specifically when attending church events and working with others.
Conclusions and Implications: These findings run counter to Putnam’s theory of social capital, suggesting that the development of adult social capital relies on other types of community engagement or social interaction. This is important for practice when considering appropriate intervention strategies in different “types” of communities. Future research should consider how community engagement opportunities are afforded differently across the socioeconomic spectrum, and could integrate the assessment of additional pathways through which individuals build social and resource networks.