Social Capital in South Dakota

John at PowerLine was in the midst of making some observations about the Arizona immigration law when he wrote the following:

Putnam took a lot of heat from fellow liberals when he published data indicating that racially diverse communities tend to have less social capital (less trust in others, for example, including those of one’s own race) than ethnically homogeneous communities. (I couldn’t help noting with some satisfaction that, in Putnam’s research, the community that ranks highest of all in social capital–almost literally off the charts– is rural South Dakota. Footnote: it’s true that rural South Dakota is ethnically homogeneous, which was the variable Putnam was analyzing. I would note that it is also heavily armed. Possibly that, too, has something to do with the confidence with which one views one’s neighbors and the world.) Putnam’s lecture was on immigration and included a review of those controversial data, which, Putnam said, he spent two years of his life trying to make go away.

Interesting, non?

3 thoughts on “Social Capital in South Dakota

  1. As an immigrant (who would be less likely to be profiled because of being mistaken as African American) I have more visceral than intellectual reaction to recent happenings in Arizona however coming from southern California I find it hard to put the concept of “Social Capital” into context.

    For example, a lot of rural South Dakota is sparsely populated, aged community and therefore looking at benchmarks like contribution to GDP, cultural contributions, innovation, and so on it is not as prolific as a place like Fullerton, CA where I used to live.

    Another factor is that population density and economic status factor into “capital” more than ethnic origin within a community. So to compare a town of 500 – 1000 people in South Dakota to a population center (e.g. Santa Ana, CA has ~330K people) one would run into some pretty obvious problems. Add onto that the income disparity, education, etc… and the results seem rather obvious. It would be an interesting experiment to imagine 330K South Dakotans living in a space no larger than the boundaries of Sioux Falls. Or, 100 “west river” ranching types living in a tract house development in southwest Sioux Falls. (wow, will have to remember that for reality tv show proposals to major networks).

    What would be interesting to me would be to measure social capital (along the axis you mention, trust etc) based on income levels, not diversity, adjusted for population rate. How would rural South Dakota compare with, say, rural Norway? How would an equally diverse place like New York compare with London? Then you’d be getting someplace with “social capital.”

    Shooting from the hip though, I’ll read the Wikipedia article on Social Capital.

    1. David,

      Agreed that discussions of Social Capital would benefit from more data and more points of comparison. I had simply thought that the data about South Dakota was interesting.

      I believe that one tends to find the greatest degree of trust within largely homogeneous populations for a reason. Humans have an tendency (one might even say an innate tendency) to fear or distrust those things which they do not understand. Therefore, a non-homogeneous population would tend to have higher levels of distrust. Of course, homogeneity is a term which can be applied against a number of different factors, such as ethnicity, income, education, etc. Rural Norway vs rural South Dakota would indeed be a useful comparison, but I’m thinking that homogeneity is the key.

      Some of this discussion must go back to the nature vs nurture discussion (which, unfortunately, will probably not be fully resolved in our lifetime). I second your thought that it would be very interesting to see 100 west river ranchers in a single housing development. Should you ever market that idea further, let me know how it goes (or let me help with the writing).

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