The 2016 Workshop of the Global Network on Social Capital and Health

On November 1st, the Taub Center was pleased to host the 6th bi-annual Workshop of the Global Network on Social Capital and Health. The event, held at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, convened top scholars in the field from around the world to present their research and receive feedback from their peers and colleagues in the discipline. The theme of this year’s conference was “Social Capital, Ethnicity and Health.”

The conference began on an optimistic note with the opening remarks from Professor Yonatan Halevy, the Director-General of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Israel. Halevy was proud to report that when it comes to hospital care in Jerusalem, you will see members of all four social groups (Jewish secular, traditional, ultra-orthodox, and Arab) represented and receiving equal care.

Professor Lorenzo Rocco from the University of Padova in Italy continued by offering a definition of social capital, and discussing the difficulties of defining and measuring it in research. Rocco showed that while high social capital is associated with health and other social benefits, the nature of the correlation is unclear and not yet proven to be causal.

In the first of the scholarly papers presented, “Social Capital and Child Injury,” Maya Siman-Tov from the University of Haifa in Israel discussed the disparities between secular families, Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) families living in religious communities, and ultra-Orthodox families living among mostly secular families. She found that although families living in ultra-Orthodox communities maintained higher social capital, their children got injured at a much higher rate than those who lived in secular settings. Simon-Tov stated that, “the environment may be more important than the actual community in which the family lives.” The discussant, Dr. Michal Hemmo-Lotem, a pediatrician and vice president for innovation at the Sheba Medical Center Fund, also suggested turning towards passive, as opposed to active, measures of injury prevention to help families with many children take care of each other in effective and safe ways.

Expanding on individual social capital, Dr. Vered Kaufman-Shriqui focused on social capital at the communal level, and hypothesized that individuals with higher social capital will have lower BMIs. The results found no major relationship between social capital and BMI for men; however, social cohesion, support and community was found to be very important for women and helped protect against high BMI. The discussant, Professor Ronit Endevelt from the University of Haifa, astutely noted the additional implications of this influence, stating that, “social capital, even when strong in the community, is not always for the best,” and providing examples of harmful communal expectations forced upon women.

Next, Professor Eric Nauenberg of the University of Toronto in Canada presented his research and projections of demographic data on the baby boomer generation as it passes through the health care system. He proposed that, as this large generation ages, it will be important to emphasize community-level social capital in order to delay a decline in health for as long as possible. The discussant, Professor and Taub Center Principal Researcher Alex Weinreb, agreed, emphasizing that, “if the family isn’t there on the individual level, it will fall on the larger community to fill that hole.”

Professor Lorenzo Rocco followed, discussing the effect of childcare on the mental health of grandparents. Rocco attempted to measure and evaluate whether the benefits grandparents receive from providing childcare for their grandchildren, such as creation and transfer of social capital, outweigh the disadvantages, such as increased rates of depression especially among men. During the question and answer period, the topic of varying cultural expectations of grandparents in different countries was raised.

The connection between housing instability and a child’s access to healthcare was explored through the research of Professor Hope Corman from Rider University in the United States. She found that children in families with unstable housing were more likely to lack health insurance. While the study was conducted before the Affordable Healthcare Act was enacted in the US, she lamented that, “[the affordable care act] is complicated for everyone, but probably especially complicated for those who are less educated, who are also those who are most likely to have an insurance gap.” The discussant, Professor Orly Manor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, emphasized the importance of the study’s focus on pre-school aged children, and how “those years are so important to all of us for health and prevention throughout our entire life.”

The final presentation was given by Naham Shapiro on the topic of defining and measuring social capital in a cross-cultural setting. Shapiro conducted his research in Jerusalem, a city with rich diversity of populations, which elucidates varied forms of social capital. He concluded that, “there is very little consensus on what ‘social capital’ is,” and on many survey questions, “if you try and look cross-culturally, you just can’t because it means different things.” In the discussion that followed, Professor Orna Baron-Epel, from the University of Haifa, agreed and elaborated on issues related to self-reported health data. She stressed that further research will need to “identify objective measures and social aspects of collective identities.”