The Puzzle of Social Capital: A Critical Review

Publication | May 2003

This paper provides a critical review of the burgeoning literature on social capital, highlighting a number of serious conceptual and empirical problems associated with this literature. First, the concept of social capital remains largely elusive, with many different ideas attached to it. This elusiveness has serious ramifications for empirical and policy analysis. Second, while the concept of social capital is used to highlight the positive, productive aspects of sociability, it fails in important ways to qualify as a form of capital. Third, there are both theoretical and empirical presumptions to suggest that social capital can to lead to undesirable socioeconomic outcomes. Finally, a large body of empirical work on social capital remains mired in measurement and estimation problems.


Introduction Definitions of Social Capital: A Confusing Medley Is Social Capital really Capital or a Bad Metaphor Tautological Definition and Exaggeration of Benefits The Problems with the Empirics of Social Capital Concluding Remarks