Putnam’s Theory of Social Capital is an essential concept in sociology that explains the importance of social networks and their impact on social and economic outcomes. The theory was introduced by Robert Putnam, a prominent political scientist, through his book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” published in 2000.

According to Putnam’s theory, social capital refers to the value that individuals derive from their social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In other words, it is the aggregate value of all the social networks and relationships that exist within a community or society.

The Three Forms of Social Capital

Putnam identified three types of social capital: bonding, bridging, and linking. Bonding social capital refers to strong ties between individuals who share similar characteristics such as ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status.

Bridging social capital refers to weak ties between individuals who are not necessarily similar but can connect through shared interests or acquaintances. Linking social capital refers to connections between individuals across different levels of power or authority.

The Importance of Social Capital

Social capital plays a crucial role in economic development, political participation and community well-being. It enhances economic growth by fostering trust and cooperation among individuals which leads to more efficient exchange of goods and services. Moreover, it promotes political participation by facilitating collective action and civic engagement.

The Decline in Social Capital

Putnam argues that there has been a decline in social capital over the last few decades due to various factors such as technological advancements, urbanization, individualism, and globalization. The rise of technology has made it easier for people to interact with each other remotely instead of face-to-face. Urbanization has led to increased mobility which has weakened traditional bonds between neighbors.

Individualism has also contributed significantly to the decline in social capital as people have become more focused on their personal goals rather than social or community goals. Finally, globalization has led to the weakening of local institutions and the standardization of norms which have eroded social networks.

The Consequences of Declining Social Capital

The decline in social capital has led to negative consequences such as increased crime rates, political polarization, income inequality, and reduced economic growth. Low levels of social capital have been linked with higher crime rates since there is less trust and cooperation among individuals. Additionally, reduced political participation has led to increased polarization and decreased tolerance for opposing views.

Income inequality has also been linked with low levels of social capital since it leads to a lack of trust between different socioeconomic groups. Finally, reduced economic growth is a consequence of low levels of social capital as it leads to less cooperation and innovation among individuals.


In conclusion, Putnam’s theory of social capital is essential in understanding the importance of social networks and relationships in promoting economic development, political participation and community well-being. The decline in social capital has had negative consequences on society such as increased crime rates, political polarization, income inequality and reduced economic growth. Therefore, it is crucial to promote the formation and maintenance of strong social networks to enhance individual and collective outcomes.