Individual and community social capital, mobility restrictions, and psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic: a multilevel analysis of a representative US survey

James Laurence, Harris Hyun soo Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

This paper explores the role of social capital in mitigating the mental health harms of social/mobility restrictions instigated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We test whether: (a) social capital continued to predict lower mental distress during the pandemic; and (b) whether social capital buffered (moderated) the harm of social/mobility restrictions on psychological distress. In addition, we test the level at which social capital mitigation effects operated, i.e., at the individual- and/or contextual-level. To do so, we apply multilevel models to three waves of the COVID-19 Household Impact Survey consisting of probability samples of U.S. adults (with the average interview completion rate of 93%). In a novel approach, we explore two modes of capturing contextual social capital: aggregated individual-level survey responses and independently measured social capital indices (SCIs). Findings show that at the individual level social capital was associated with lower psychological distress. It also buffered the harm of restrictions: increasing restrictions had a weaker effect on distress among individuals interacting with neighbors more frequently. Importantly, mitigating processes of contextual social capital appeared conditional on how it was measured. Using aggregated survey responses, contextual social capital had no direct effect on distress but exerted an additional buffering role: individuals in counties with higher average neighbor-interaction experienced a weaker impact of restrictions. Using the independent SCI measures, we found county social capital reduced distress. However, its negative effect on distress becomes increasingly weaker the more restrictions an individual reported: where individuals reported lower restrictions, higher county SCI reduced distress; however, where individuals reported higher restrictions, higher county SCI had no effect on distress. More restrictive environments thus cut individuals off from the benefits of higher county social capital as measured using the SCI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114361
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume287
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was generously supported with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/S013121/1 ]

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Community social capital
  • Individual social capital
  • Mobility restrictions
  • Psychological-distress

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Individual and community social capital, mobility restrictions, and psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic: a multilevel analysis of a representative US survey'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this