Theory and Measurement in Social Capital Research

38 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2015 Last revised: 11 Sep 2015

See all articles by Trent Engbers

Trent Engbers

University of Southern Indiana

Michael F. Thompson

Independent Researcher

Timothy Slaper

Indiana Business Research Center

Date Written: August 31, 2015


In 1988, James Coleman observed that “social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity but a variety of different entities, with two elements in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structures, and they facilitate certain actions of actors-whether persons or corporate actors-within the structure.” If one looks at the state of social capital research, it is clear that this is truer than ever before. This paper seeks to help researchers overcome the major challenges of social capital research, namely, measuring a concept that is notoriously difficult for measurement and choosing among the exhaustive list of direct, casual and consequential measures. It does so for by arguing for a typology of social capital that considers five major types of social capital and then reviewing a diverse selection of data available from national surveys. This provides a resource for scholars wishing to pursue large-scale social capital research. Additionally, it draws five lessons from this body of theory and measurement to improve the study of social capital.

Keywords: Social Capital, measurement

Suggested Citation

Engbers, Trent and Thompson, Michael and Slaper, Timothy, Theory and Measurement in Social Capital Research (August 31, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Trent Engbers (Contact Author)

University of Southern Indiana ( email )

8600 University Boulevard
Evansville, IN 47712
United States

Michael Thompson

Independent Researcher ( email )

Madison, WI 53703
United States

Timothy Slaper

Indiana Business Research Center ( email )

100 So. College, Suite 240
Bloomington, IN IN 47404
United States
8128557475 (Phone)


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