HomeServicesSummer coursesSummer courses. 2007

Summer courses. 2007


Laura Iisakka Statistics Finland. Helsinki. Finlandia


The concept of social capital has attracted growing research interest since the late 1990s in Finland. The literature began to accumulate in 1997 when Reino Hjerppe published his article Social Capital – A Concept Worth Exploring (in Statistics Finland’s Welfare Review, in Finnish), and Jouko Kajanoja published The Welfare State as Investment in Human and Social Capital (in Finnish). However discus-sion and debate on the subject of social capital and its measurement has been going on since 1990 in a health survey conducted under the direction of Markku T. Hyyppä (1990a; 1990b; 1994) – even though the actual term of social capital was not used. Research into social capital gradually gathered steam around the turn of the millennium. In recent years a major impetus for this line of work in Finland has come from the Academy of Finland research programme on Social Capital and Networks of Trust. Launched in 2003 and running through to the end of 2007.

Our national experience of assessing social capital in Finland originates from concerns of economic theory: the theory of endogenous growth (Hjerppe 1998, 2003) and its applications in regional eco-nomics (Alanen and Pelkonen 2000). The pioneer figure in the Finnish national debate on social capi-tal, Dr. Reino Hjerppe, emphasised the usefulness of the concept of social capital in economic analysis. Later, however, most of the research interest and political concerns around social capital have related to sociological issues like trust, or political efforts, such as support to people’s participation in civic action.

There have also been some tentative attempts to compile statistics on social capital in Finland. Aku Alanen (Alanen & Pelkonen 2000; Alanen & Niemeläinen 2001; Alanen 2003) has experimented with introducing social capital into economic statistics. Statistics Finland experts have been involved in in-ternational statistical networks dealing with questions of social capital (e.g. the Siena Group) and pro-duced articles on the measurement of social capital (Simpura 2002; Alanen et al. 2005, in Finnish).

Last year (2006), Statistics Finland published a statistical review Social Capital in Finland. The pur-pose of the present statistical review was to investigate the possibilities for compiling statistics of so-cial capital in Finland on the basis of existing statistical materials. The articles in this publication re-view international measurements and statistical frameworks for finding and extracting indicators of social capital that could be obtained by using Statistics Finland’s existing data sources.

In measuring social capital it is important to consider not only the characteristics of social capital, but also its presumed outcomes as has been done in this review. The articles in the publication examine the key features of social capital, such as trust, participation, voluntary work, social interaction and recip-rocity. Some special themes are also considered, e.g. whether the use of communications media adds to social capital and whether a correlation can be seen between perceived health and social capital. The articles also talk about social capital in workplace communities, enterprises’ network relations and col-lective labour agreements.

According to the previous project in Statistics Finland, existing statistical datasets provide a useful tool for studying social capital, even though they have not been collected for the measurement of this con-cept. Still, a broad and comprehensive analysis is not usually possible with just one dataset, but differ-ent datasets must be used simultaneously instead.

The measurement of regional economy and social capital in Finland

At Statistics Finland, Aku Alanen has conducted a series of studies on the relationship between social capital and regional economy (Alanen & Pelkonen 2000; Alanen & Niemeläinen 2001; Alanen 2003). Research on regional economies is conducted by measuring people’s activities and opinions (at the level of civil society) and by surveying intra- and inter-organisational connections (at the level of or-ganisations). At the regional level it is much harder to find reliable indicators than at the national level; this applies equally to social capital at the civil society and at the organisational level. The same meas-urement tools can yield completely different results for social capital when applied at different regional levels. Even in Finland there are so many different regions that it is impossible to produce any mean-ingful results on the associations between social capital and regional economy. So at what regional level would it make most sense to measure social capital?

A basic distinction can be made between hierarchic and non-hierarchic approaches to regional meas-urements. Examples of hierarchic, administratively created regional levels include the municipality, region, sub-region, major region and employment area. It is questionable whether there is any real value in conducting economic analyses on very small economic units such as municipalities, since they are not proper functioning economic units. The region, on the other hand, is often too large a unit; many regions in Finland are far too heterogeneous for these purposes. At the level of major regions or provinces, there is also the risk that the differences between regions become blurred. For purposes of measuring regional economies the most appropriate unit of measurement is the employment area, which is not used in any administrative regional classification. In practice, however, the level that pro-vides the most meaningful platform for economic empirical research on social capital in Finland is that of the sub-region – although for reasons that have to do with the state of existing databases it is often necessary to apply other regional levels as well.

Another way to gain a statistical overview of all regions is to divide the country non-hierarchically into segments around a core consisting of all regional centres. However it is only rarely that the areas formed in non-hierarchic classifications are economic units proper, even though they may be interest-ing and important from a regional perspective.

Pilot measurements of regional economies suggest that for purposes of regional analysis it would be important to include both the positive and negative aspects of social capital. Questionnaire responses, for instance, can be interpreted as partly negative and partly positive if it turns out that some respon-dents have no social capital at all. An example is provided by the search for subjective indicators of social capital at the regional level (Alanen & Niemeläinen 2001), where it was tried to identify the in-dividuals with very low levels of social capital. This group of people was considered to represent nega-tive social capital because the absence of social relations and trust. However the interpretation of the results proved rather problematic since the sub-regions of Jyväskylä and Turku, for instance, were found to have higher levels of both positive and negative social capital.

Overall comparisons of regional economies and social capital have recently been complemented with analyses of the most important components of economic development. Given the limitations of exist-ing data sources, the associations between social capital and regional economies can also be studied by concentrating on a few selected regions and on comparisons between those regions.

Social Capital and the Networks of Trust -research programme

The Academy of Finland research programme on Social Capital and Networks of Trust was launched in 2003 and it is running till the end of 2007. This programme comprises 31 research programmes. Research programme is organising an international congress on the topic next October when we’ll hopefully have a lots of new material on social capital, its nature and its measurement.

Social capital and health study in Finland

In Finland most of the work on the associations between social capital and health has been done by Markku T. Hyyppä and his colleagues. They have compared the Finnish and Swedish-speaking popu-lations living in coastal Ostrobothnia, on the western coast of Finland since the late 1990s. According the results, Swedish-speakers live longer, are healthier and have better functional capacity than the Finnish-speaking population living in the same area. The results show that social capital is associated with good health when some of the most common health-related factors (age, gender, weight, smoking, family incomes, alcohol use, chronic illnesses) are controlled for (Hyyppä & Mäki 2000; 2001a; 2001b.) The measures of social capital were social participation, the number of friends who provided help and trust.

Some new studies on the topic of association between social capital and health are on the drawing board at the moment. For instance, there’s an article on the topic in Socil Capital in Finland. Her study is based on population-based survey data Health 2000-survey. According to the results all the dimen-sions used in the study were clearly correlated with perceived health when age, gender, chronic illness and two other dimensions of social capital were controlled for. Socially active people have good per-ceived health more often than those who do not engage in social activities. Trust and good perceived health correlated with each other. Also people who received social support rate their own health as good more often than people who do not get support.

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