British Journal of Political Science

British Journal of Political Science (1999), 29:3:417-461 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © 1999 Cambridge University Press

Social Capital in Britain 1

a1 Department of Government, Harvard University


Recent findings show an apparent erosion in the United States over the post-war years of ‘social capital’ understood as the propensity of individuals to associate together on a regular basis, to trust one another, and to engage in community affairs. This article examines the British case for similar trends, finding no equivalent erosion. It proposes explanations for the resilience of social capital in Britain, rooted in educational reform, the transformation of the class structure, and government policy. It concludes by drawing some general lessons from the British case that stress the importance of the distributive dimensions of social capital and the impact that governments can have on it.