Newsletter #56: Understanding Your Social Capital Score
Welcome back to the Masculinist, the newsletter about how we live as Christian men and as the church in the modern world.
Understanding Your Social Capital Score
Here’s how Wikipedia describes social capital:
Social capital is “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively”. It involves the effective functioning of social groups through interpersonal relationships, a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation, and reciprocity. Social capital is a measure of the value of resources, both tangible (e.g., public spaces, private property) and intangible (e.g., actors, human capital, people), and the impact that these relationships have on the resources involved in each relationship, and on larger groups. It is generally seen as a form of capital that produces public goods for a common purpose.
Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam is one of the biggest popularizers of the social capital concept, particularly through his book Bowling Alone, which described the decline of social capital in American communities.
Social capital today is frequently discussed as a property of locations. For example, Scott Winship at the Joint Economic Committee created a social capital index that measured social capital levels in states and counties. The index measures things like volunteership rates, involvement in political activities like attending public meetings, number of close friends, etc. It’s a good report and well worth reading if you have the time to educate yourself on the concept.
But social capital also has an individual dimension. The question of social capital is one we can ask ourselves. How much social capital do I have personally? What relationships, identities, etc. can I draw on in building a life for myself and my family? These are the kinds of questions we should all be asking ourselves.
To help with this, I put together a questionnaire that you can go through to help you assess the level of social capital you have personally. This isn’t exhaustive. Nor does it include things like voting which I don’t see having a real impact on the individual.
I’d like to turn this into a real social capital score by looking up the research on the impact of these items and constructing an index around an online survey similar to Charles Murray’s “bubble quiz.”
I don’t have the time or resources to do that at present, so we’ll just talk through it narratively and you can assess yourself on it. I will also make some comments on my own status throughout.
The first set of questions relate to family relationships. Family is the core of social capital because family relationships are the most durable and highest trust. Family relationships will become even more important as overall levels of social trust erode in the United States. (In low trust countries, family or clan relationships become the key principle of social organization).
Question #1: Are you married?
Having a spouse is a key source of relational value. Life is just much easier when two people combined are able to divide the labor and share the load. There’s somebody to care for you when you are sick, to come get you when your car breaks down, to do things you can’t do well (maybe cook, for example), to be a companion and a partner in romance and sexual excitement.
Not all marriages are great, of course. But in general, being married is a great boon for the people involved.
While in the past people may have married for purely practical reasons, that’s not the case today. I’d never suggest that someone get married – or try to do anything else in this questionnaire – for clinical reasons like boosting his social capital. Obviously we should only marry someone we love and want to build a life with. But we can certainly be intentional about preparing ourselves for marriage and actively seeking to find that person we do want to marry.
I am married.
Question #2: How long have you been married?
I don’t know that length of marriage is social capital per se, but the earlier years of marriage are at higher risk of divorce (though there’s another window of so-called “gray divorce” that sometimes happen once the children are grown). It’s worth thinking about how marital stability varies over time.
I’ve been married about five years.
Question #3: How many children do you have?
Children were traditionally seen as a source of wealth. Conventional wisdom is that kids today are more a cost than a benefit because they aren’t needed to work on the farm, etc. However, I’d argue that children are still a great source of wealth, especially as we age.
I remember the first time I emotionally connected with the future trajectory of my life into old age. I was in my late 30s and my grandmother went into the hospital. My mother, aunt and uncle, brother and cousins took turns staying with her 24×7 in the hospital and being a patient advocate for her with the staff. For the first time I looked at an old person in a hospital bed and asked, “Who is going to come stay with me when I’m old and in the hospital?” I didn’t have children at that time. The cold answer was that probably no one would be coming to see me in the hospital.
Yes, some children are estranged from parents. Yes, children die or become disabled. But look around you and see how much you see people doing to care for aging parents and it’s obvious that children are a critical support in old age (and other times of life) no matter how fat your 401(k) is.
Children are also just great to have in general.
I now have one child. I would like to have more, but at this point that’s not looking very likely. This is a direct consequence of how I lived my life. But no complaints – I’m thankful for what I have, which is great and more than I deserve.
Question #4: Are your parents still alive?
Question #5: If you are married, are your wife’s parents still alive?
We will take care of our parents, but our parents often help take care of us, often well into their old age. Grandparents, for example, are famously great for babysitting or buying things for their grandchildren.
Yes, if our parents are alive, this will mean we have a lot of labor ahead of us to care of them. But this is the power of relationships, especially family relationships. It’s in part about people who are there for each other when needed.
My parents are still alive and so are my wife’s.
Question #6: Are your parents still married (or did they stay together until death)?
Question #7: Are your wife’s parents still married (or did they stay together until death)?
In my observation, people who remain married for life themselves have significant social capital and financial resources with which to help their children. By contrast, single parents, divorced parents, etc. themselves often are poorer and sometimes have personal problems. Having divorced parents complicates elder care. Remarriage and stepfamilies can provide additional social capital but can also be a source of relational challenges.
Looking at the rural Indiana community I grew up in, many of the social problems are related to multigenerational single parenthood and divorce. In some cases there’s just one layer of Baby Boomer grandparents (or great-grandparents) left who are the only remaining layer of support and social functioning at a high level. Once that’s gone, look out below. The dynamics are similar to what we saw develop in inner cities a few decades ago.
My parents are divorced. My wife’s parents are still married.
Question #8: How many siblings do you have?
Question #9: If married, how many siblings does your wife have?
Brothers and sisters are another great source of trusted relationships. Having siblings means more cousins for your own kids, more help with caring for aging parents, and possibly a source of mutual help or companionship in the meantime.
I have a brother and two step-sisters. My wife has one brother.
Question #10: How many cousins do you and your wife have close relationships with?
Cousins are an extended family network that can be a source of relational value.
I have a large number of first cousins and my wife does not have any. Interestingly, the cousins on my mother’s side of the family have grown closer (despite being geographically far apart) in recent years. I think that’s because many of us had kids late in life and only have one child. I only have strong relationships with three cousins on my dad’s side of the family. I grew up next door to them. (I do get along well with all my other cousins. We just aren’t personally close).
Question #11: How many children do your siblings and your wife’s siblings have?
This basically factors into how much social capital your children will have because this is how many cousins they will have.
My step sisters have several children. But I do worry about my son being an only child and having relatively few cousins. This shows that our family formation choices don’t just affect us personally, but affect our children as well.
The next questions are about your friend network.
Question #12: How many close male friends do you have?
Question #13: Do you still stay in contact with any friends from high school or college?
Most men have few if any close friends other than those mediated via their wives (such as the husbands of their wife’s friends). This leaves them, especially as they get older, at high risk of becoming socially isolated.
I have noticed that while women often remain close to friends from college or even high school, men tend to have friendships that are context dependent and end when that context ends. That is, they have college friendships that don’t last long after college, or work friendships that don’t survive a job change.
This is an area I want to work on as I have few close male friends. I do have a large network of weak ties with other men though. That’s mostly as a result of being a public writer and speaker and such. This reduces my risk of true social isolation. And I am still friends with two people from college.
The next questions are about location.
Question #14: Do you live in or near your hometown? (If not, do you live in the nearest big city or the biggest city in your home state?)
This gets to identity. The area we grow up in supposedly imprints itself on us as home sometime around puberty. Thus we have some kind of connection there that’s hard to replicate elsewhere.
Consider a bigger lens example. I’m an American. I could certainly enjoy living in France, but France would probably never seem like home to me no matter how long I was there. Similarly, I’m from Indiana. Domestic relocation is much easier than foreign, but when I’ve lived in non-Midwestern places I’ve always had a sense that things are a little off or different from what I expect.
Living where you grew up also allows for longstanding, even multigenerational connections to people and institutions.
What I’ve noticed is that people from rural areas or small towns often migrate to the economic center of their state, like Indianapolis in Indiana. This keeps them close to home and in a familiar cultural milieu (in many states at least).
I live in the largest city in the state where I grew up.
Question #15: How long have you lived in your current area?
The longer you’ve lived in a place, the more relationships and social capital you accumulate. For most people, moving around a lot hurts social capital development, though people at elite levels can thrive in this kind of high migration environment.
I’ve lived in Indianapolis a year and a half, but grew up in the state. My wife lived in Indy her entire adult life before moving to NYC to be with me.
One of my reasons for wanting to move back here was specifically to anchor us in the place we grew up, to be closer to family, etc. So we are newly back but not brand new.
Question #16: Do your parents or in-laws live nearby?
Question #17: How many siblings or sibling-in-laws (or other family) live nearby?
This gets to how many of your family members live near you. It’s a refinement of the hometown question. You might have relatives living nearby if you live in your hometown, but you can also have family nearby when you moved away. For example, when I lived in Chicago, my brother was there for a decade, and I had an aunt, uncle, and two cousins very close to me as well.
It’s one thing to have family. It’s another to have them close where you can actually see them regularly.
My parents, siblings, and in-laws all live nearby.
The next questions deal with where you go to church.
Question #18: Are you a member (or regular attendee) of a church?
The first question is whether you actually go to church. Church membership, beyond being part of following the true faith, also has positive social capital associations. I would assume most of you attend a church.
We regularly attend church.
Question #19: If a church member, how long have you been a member or regular attendee of that church?
Again, the longer you stay rooted in a particular church, the more social capital you accumulate (and the bigger impact you can make there).
We’ve attended our church for a year.
Question #20: Do you attend a church in the same tradition or denomination you were raised in?
Much like the matter of living where you are born, there’s something more organic about continuing in the tradition in which you were raised, particularly if there’s a long tradition there. My family is Catholic on both sides. (I was actually baptized Catholic). My father’s family in particular has deep roots in a particular parish. Much of my family is buried there, for example.
I was raised in a rural Assemblies of God Church. Even if I went back to Catholicism, it wouldn’t be the same as if I were a cradle Catholic. There’s a clear cultural difference I see between the cradle Catholics I know and the Catholic converts.
I am Presbyterian today, and I can’t help but view it as something of a foreign object to study rather than something that feels natural and reflexive. This weakens the sense of identity I derive from it.
There are probably many other questions one could ask about social capital. But hopefully this will give you a way to think about your own life. The goal is not necessarily to maximize social capital, especially in a clinical sense. Getting married just because you think it would add to your social capital would be a bit strange.
But in today’s world where so many of the messages of our society encourage people to make choices with negative downstream consequences, we do have to live life with much more intentionality than people did in the past. Hence understanding where we stand on social capital is a useful exercise to undertake.
Dissident Right Follow-Up and Coda
Following up on my three-part series on the Dissident Right (see part one, part two, and part three), I want to call your attention to a recent great piece in the New Yorker called “Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters?” It goes into detail about the role of genetics in intelligence and various behavioral traits, and the profound challenge genetics poses to modern secular ideology. It’s a curious and ironic reversal. While once Darwin posed a crisis for Christianity, today he poses a crisis for secular ideologies. Christianity, by contrast, is not threatened by the findings of genetic science.
The main scientist they profile, Kathryn Paige Harden, was raised in a very conservative Christian home but rejected her parents’ faith. She wants to retain Christian ethics while taking a fundamentally Darwinist few of modern humans – she calls herself a “Matthew 25:40 empiricist” – but it won’t work.
I’ll again share this quote from Dissident Right blogger “The Z-Man,” acknowledging the prevalence of atheism in the movement, as well as the alt-right’s basic incompatibility with Christianity. I see the Dissident Right in its various forms as the kind of movements that could only arise in a post-Christian society with materialist metaphysics like Harden’s.
Can you be a Christian and Alt-Right? That’s a question the TRS [The Right Stuff – an alt-right podcast] guys were debating the other day. It comes up a lot, mostly because the leading lights in dissident politics are not religious. Some appear to be outright atheists, even if they don’t make a big deal out of it. Of the old guys, I can’t think of any who are Evangelical. Most were Protestants, but have long ago drifted from their churches. I don’t think any of the next generation are religious. Some grew up going to church, but abandoned it as soon as they left home.
There’s a lot more to this so there will be many more posts on the topic, but a good point of entry is the simple question at the start of the post. The alt-right makes race the primary identity. Christians, and I’m thinking primarily of non-denominational Christians, place their relationship with Jesus Christ as their primary identity. That’s an obvious conflict, as nothing in Scripture backs the primary arguments of the alt-right. Even the most expansive reading of Scripture cannot arrive at a pro-white position.