Social Capital and Inequality: The Significance of Social Connections

Handbook of Social Psychology and Inequality

The study of social connections and their consequences is central to social psychology and represents a growing field of inquiry in the social sciences more broadly. It is linked to the analysis of social networks and to what is called “social capital,” a term made popular by Robert Putnam. A major dimension of inequality in society is the extent of access to social capital, to connections that matter. Differential access to such resources is one of the most enduring features of social inequality and a key reason for its reproduction across time and space. Networks structure access and access to social capital is linked to variation in important life outcomes, revealing the significance of such factors for the study of inequality and its reproduction. Social capital has been linked to outcomes as diverse as health status, intellectual development, academic performance, employment opportunities, occupational attainment, entrepreneurial success or failure, and even juvenile delinquency, among other things. This chapter reviews some of the relevant theory and research on networks and inequality.