Putnam, Robert D. "Strange Disappearance of Civic America." American Prospect, vol. 7 no. 24, December 1, 1996. http://www.prospect.org/print/V7/24/putnam-r.html. Link Accessed: 2003-07-22.

Keywords: social capital, civic engagement


In this article Putnam examines the mystery of declining social capital in American society. He concludes that non-social activities (such as the use of the Internet) may contribute to the decline of civic engagement.

Social capital is defined as: features of social life; networks, norms and trust that enable citizens to act collaboratively to pursue common goals.

Civic engagement refers a citizen’s connectedness to their community.

According to Putnam, the disappearance of social capital seems to be related to the differences among generations. Putnam uses the General Social Survey (GSS) for support of his claim and concludes:

Education is the primary influence on social connectedness; trust and membership.
Hard work does not seem to prevent civic engagement.
Relative declines in social connectedness and civic engagement appear greater among women but the evidence is circumstantial, not proven yet.
Successful marriage is statistically associated with greater social trust and civic engagement, so the decline in marriage seems to contribute somewhat to the decline in trust and membership.
Age stands out a predictor of all forms of civic engagement and trust – second only to education. Generational effects, particularly being raised after WWII accounts for most of the civic disengagement.
Television – There is evidence to show that there is a link between when TV arrived and when social connectedness declined. TV viewing is associated with low social capital. Contrast with newspaper reading is associated with high social capital. Putnam project the Internet may have the same effect.
Heavy readers are joiners
Heavy viewers are loners
Heavy TV viewing by children probably increases aggressiveness (not necessarily violence), reduces school achievement and is statistically associated with psychosocial malfunctioning.