The effect of health on social capital; a longitudinal observation study of the UK

Background: UK health policy increasingly focusses on health as an asset. This represents a shift of focus away from specific risk factors towards the more holistic capacity by which integrated care assets in the community support improvements in both health and the wider flourishing of individuals. Though the social determinants of health are well known, relatively little research has focussed on the impact of an individual’s health on their social outcomes. This research investigates how improved health can deliver a social return through the development of social capital.
Methods: An observational study is undertaken on 25 years of longitudinal data, from 1991, drawn from the harmonised British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and Understanding Society Survey (USS). Fixed effects instrumental variable panel data regression analysis is undertaken on individuals. The number of memberships of social organisations, as a measure of structural social capital, is regressed on subjectively measured general health and GHQ12 (Likert) scores. Distinction is drawn between males and females.
Results: Improved general health increases social capital though differences exist between males and females. Interaction effects, that identify the impacts of health for different age groups, reveal that a general effect of increased health on social capital for males is enhanced as they age. However, in the case of females increases in general health increase social capital only in connection with their age group. In contrast mental illness generally reduces social capital for males and females, and these effects are reduced through aging.
Conclusions: Investing in health as an asset can improve the social outcomes of individuals. Increasing the outcomes requires tailoring integrated care systems to ensure that opportunities for social engagement are available to individuals and reflect age groups. Targeting improvements in mental health is required, particularly for younger age groups, to promote social capital. The results suggest the importance of ensuring that opportunity for engagement in social and civic organisation be linked to general and mental health care support.