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Determinants of Successful Aging: Developing an Integrated Research Agenda for the 21st Century |

Social Capital and Successful Aging: The Role of Senior Housing

Carolyn Cannuscio, ScD; Jason Block, MD, MPH; and Ichiro Kawachi, MD, PhD
[+] Article and Author Information

From Merck Research Laboratories, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania; Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana; and Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts.


Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed.

Requests for Single Reprints: Ichiro Kawachi, MD, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

Current Author Addresses: Dr. Cannuscio: Epidemiology Department, Merck Research Laboratories, 10 Sentry Parkway BL 1-7, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

Dr. Block: 727 1/2 Henry Clay, New Orleans, LA 70118.

Dr. Kawachi: Department of Health and Social Behavior, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.


Ann Intern Med. 2003;139(5_Part_2):395-399. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-139-5_Part_2-200309021-00003
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Social capital can be defined broadly as the resources available to individuals and groups through their social connections to their communities (1). Although the precise definition of social capital is contested and continues to evolve, most definitions emphasize its characteristic as a collective good (1). Social capital can be considered a kind of public good that is provided by a group or community, and, consequently, the benefits of social capital tend to be more widely shared by members of the community. It is the collective dimension of social capital that most sharply distinguished it from other existing concepts, such as social networks and social support. A classic example of this distinction, which we develop further in the following case study, is the individual who may lack social ties and social support on a personal level but nevertheless benefits from residing within a community that is rich in social connections. In turn, communities with high stocks of social capital may be more effective in responding to external health threats, such as natural disasters, or the threatened closure of local health services. Such communities are also better equipped to protect the health of its citizens, even those who are socially isolated. The social connections that exist within a community therefore represent a form of capital that can be leveraged for health gain (1).

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