Social Capital Project

About the Project

The Social Capital Project is a multi-year research effort that will investigate the evolving nature, quality, and importance of our associational life. “Associational life” is our shorthand for the web of social relationships through which we pursue joint endeavors—namely, our families, our communities, our workplaces, and our religious congregations. These institutions are critical to forming our character and capacities, providing us with meaning and purpose, and for addressing the many challenges we face.

The American Enterprise Institute recently published a new report by Brad Wilcox and Wendy Wang that highlights the class divide in American marriage. As the authors explain, prior to the 1970s family life looked similar across socioeconomic levels, but today there are stark divides across class when it comes to marriage, divorce, and unwed childbearing.

In 2016, roughly 64,000 people died from drug overdoses, and opioids accounted for nearly two-thirds of those deaths. It is difficult to comprehend the full scope and magnitude of the opioids crisis, its causes, and its consequences—for families, communities, and workplaces. But better understanding the challenges it poses is a necessary first step to informed public policy. This report gathers an unprecedented amount of data on the opioids crisis.

Few countries are as generous as the United States when it comes to volunteering.1 One quarter of Americans donated time to an organization in 2015. One need look no further than the outpouring of assistance in response to recent natural disasters for powerful illustrations of American civic-mindedness. In 2006 and 2007, over a million volunteers joined the recovery effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. One year after Superstorm Sandy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that, “some 173,544 volunteers had invested more than 1 million volunteer hours in the Sandy recovery effort.”2 And already, Americans have responded to the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma with characteristic generosity.

Our physical and mental health reflects the health of our relationships with others. Studies show that social networks influence the behavior of their members, affecting whether they are obese or fit, happy or sad. The stark fact is that socially isolated people and others without social support die younger. Even among people with adequate social support, health status is connected to the health of their friends, family, and coworkers.

Today, Americans face a wide variety of challenges in our era of tumultuous transition. We are materially better off in many ways than in the past. But despite this real progress, there is a sense that our social fabric has seen better days. Leading thinkers have issued warnings that we are increasingly “bowling alone,” “coming apart,” and inhabiting a “fractured republic.” At the heart of those warnings is a view that what happens in the middle layers of our society is vital to sustaining a free, prosperous, democratic, and pluralistic country. That space is held together by extended networks of cooperation and social support, norms of reciprocity and mutual obligation, trust, and social cohesion. In short, it is sustained by what we do together.