Do you feel like you’re a part of your local community? If your answer is “no,” you’re not defective, this is actually how many people feel today.
According to sociologist Robert Putnam in his classic book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, our sense of community has significantly declined for the past half century.
A central concept throughout the book is the idea of “social capital,” which is defined as how strong a network of relationships is within a given community.
Communities that are high on social capital tend to be more trustworthy and cooperative. Neighbors talk to one another and help each other out more. And citizens are highly active in their schools, churches, and government institutions.
Communities that are low on social capital tend to be less trustworthy and cooperative. Neighbors don’t feel as connected with one another and are more skeptical of each other. And citizens are less active in their schools, churches, and government institutions, sometimes choosing to not participate in them at all.
Robert Putnam shares a plethora of research in the book showing how “social capital” has been on a steady decline since about the 1960s. As a whole, across all demographics, people vote less, go to church less, and are less likely to have each other over for dinner or attend community events.
The title “Bowling Alone” is in reference to the specific decline of bowling leagues over the past few decades. Bowling leagues have traditionally been a great way to build social bonds, create connections with your neighbors, and feel like you’re a part of your community.
These types of opportunities to build social capital within our communities seem to be growing less and less. Why?