How equal is the relationship between individual social capital and psychological distress? a gendered analysis using cross-sectional data from Ghent (Belgium)

Social capital has been related to various aspects of health. While literature suggests that men and women differently access and mobilise social capital, gender has received little attention within social capital research. This study examines whether the association between individual social capital and psychological distress is different for men and women. The authors made use of data from a representative sample of 1025 adults within 50 neighbourhoods of Ghent (Belgium), collected in the context of the cross-sectional Social capital and Well-being In Neighbourhoods in Ghent (SWING) Survey 2011. Six components of social capital were discerned: generalised trust, social support, social influence, social engagement and attachment, the volume of social capital and the mean occupational prestige in one’s network. Multilevel linear regression models were fitted to explore interactions between gender and these components of social capital. In accordance with previous research, men report lower levels of psychological distress than women (t = 4.40, p < 0.001). Regarding the gender gap in social capital, the findings are mixed. Only for half of the social capital variables (social support, social influence and volume of social capital), a significant gender difference is found, favouring men (t = 4.03, p < 0.001; t =1.99, p < 0.001 and t = 4.50, p < 0.001 respectively). None of the analysed interaction terms between gender and social capital is significantly related to psychological distress. The authors concluded that the analyses indicate that the association between individual social capital and psychological distress is similar for men and women. The relatively low level of gender stratification in Belgium might have influenced this finding. Furthermore, it is possible that social capital is not of greater importance for women in general, but mainly for women who are in an especially vulnerable social situation that deprives their access to alternative resources (e.g. unemployed women, single mothers). Future studies should seek to identify subgroups for whom social capital might be particularly influential, by transcending 'simple' dyads such as 'men versus women'. Authors: Vyncke V, Hardyns W, Peersman W, Pauwels L, Groenewegen P, Willems S. ;Full Source: BMC Public Health. 2014 Sep 16;14(1):960. [Epub ahead of print] ;