The Economics of Social Capital: An Analysis of the Factors that Affect Individual Social Capital Investment and Accumulation


Lebenbaum, Michael (2022). The Economics of Social Capital: An Analysis of the Factors that Affect Individual Social Capital Investment and Accumulation.


Introduction: Although there is a large literature examining the effects of social capital on health, the literature examining the factors affecting investment in and accumulation of social capital is less developed, especially in the economics literature. Therefore, this dissertation examined the effects of three different sets of factors on adult social capital: 1) time preferences, risk preferences and survival expectations; 2) childhood mental and physical health; 3) genetic endowments (i.e., polygenic score) for education.
Methods: This dissertation used the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a cohort of American adolescents recruited in 1994-95 (N=20,745) and followed up in 2001-02 (Wave 3: 15,197), 2008 (Wave 4 N=15,701), 2016-18 (Wave 5 N=12,300). Siblings were oversampled (Wave 1: 1,251 groups). Polygenic scores were available for 80% of Wave 4 respondents in the Genome-Wide Association Study sub-sample. Social capital investments were defined as Waves 3-5 volunteering, religious service attendance, and Waves 3-4 team sports participation, while social capital stock was defined as Wave 4 number of friends, social isolation, and Wave 5 available social support.
Results: In individual fixed effects models, we found that time preferences had negative effects while risk preferences had positive effects on social capital investments. Similar associations were found with cross-sectional stock measures. Survival expectations were only associated with stock measures of social capital. In sibling fixed effects models, child self-rated health had a positive effect on team sports participation, social support and decreased social isolation. Child mental health conditions only had effects on isolation. The education polygenic score had significant associations with volunteering, religious service attendance and friendship; however, only effects on volunteering were significant in sibling fixed effects models.
Conclusions: Lower levels of time preferences and higher levels of risk preferences, child health, and the education polygenic score likely have causal positive effects in building adult social capital, highlighting that investment frameworks similar to those used for human and health capital can be used to analyzed social capital and they should be considered in the development of policies to address social capital.


Reference Type


Book Title

Health Policy, Management and Evaluation


Lebenbaum, Michael

Series Author(s)

Laporte, Audrey

Year Published


Volume Number



University of Toronto

Reference ID