Political Behavior, Vol. 22, No. 4, 2000
TRUSTING AND JOINING? An Empirical
Test of the Reciprocal Nature
of Social Capital
Michele P.Claibourn and Paul S.Martin
This article tests a key hypothesis of the social capital literature: voluntary memberships
and generalized trust reproduce one another. Panel data from the Michigan Socializa-
tion Studies from 1965 to 1982 are used to test the contemporaneous and lagged effects
of interpersonal trust on joining groups and the contemporaneous and lagged effects
of joining groups on interpersonal trust. We find no evidence supporting the hypothesis
that interpersonal trust encourages group memberships and only limited evidence
suggesting that belonging to groups makes individuals more trusting.
Key words: social capital; voluntary associations; interpersonal trust.
In recent years both nonprofit foundations and government agencies have
encouraged the proliferation of voluntary associations as a means of generating
social capital, thought to provide resources that improve governance and gov-
ernment accountability to citizens (Brehm and Rahn, 1997; Putnam, 1995,
2000). Despite the growing push to build social capital as public policy, and
the ever-growing literature, there is still much uncertainty about the mecha-
nisms that foster social capital and the effects of social capital on democracies.
This article focuses on further understanding the mechanisms that reproduce
social capital, specifically, the extent to which voluntary associations produce
interpersonal trust, a form of social capital, and vice versa.
Social capital originated as an ethically neutral resource produced as a by-
product of social relationships (Coleman, 1988). Social capital as a resource
available to individuals can take multiple forms, including norms, information,
Michele P. Claibourn, University of Wisconsin at Madison; Paul S. Martin, University of Okla-
homa, Department of Political Science, 455 W. Lindsey, Room 205, Norman, Oklahoma 73019
0190-9320/00/1200-0267$18.00/0 2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation