(2000) Putnam followed up with a comprehensive exploration of a
substantial array of data sources. The evidence began to look convincing. First in the
realm of civic engagement and social connectedness he was able to demonstrate that, for
example, over the last three decades of the twentieth century there had been a
fundamental shift in:
Political and civic engagement
. Voting, political knowledge, political trust, and
grassroots political activism are all down. Americans sign 30 per cent fewer petitions and
are 40 per cent less likely to join a consumer boycott, as compared to just a decade or two
ago. The declines are equally visible in non-political community life: membership and
activity in all sorts of local clubs and civic and religious organizations have been falling
at an accelerating pace. In the mid-1970s the average American attended some club
meeting every month, by 1998 that rate of attendance had been cut by nearly 60 per cent.
Informal social ties
. In 1975 the average American entertained friends at home 15 times
per year; the equivalent figure (1998) is now barely half that. Virtually all leisure
activities that involve doing something with someone else, from playing volleyball to
playing chamber music, are declining.
Tolerance and trust
. Although Americans are more tolerant of one another than were
previous generations, they trust one another less. Survey data provide one measure of the
growth of dishonesty and distrust, but there are other indicators. For example,
employment opportunities for police, lawyers, and security personnel were stagnant for
most of this century - indeed, America had fewer lawyers per capita in 1970 than in 1900.
In the last quarter century these occupations boomed, as people have increasingly turned
to the courts and the police
He went on to examine the possible reasons for this decline. Crucially, he was able to
demonstrate that some favourite candidates for blame could not be regarded as
significant. Residential mobility had actually been declining for the last half of the
century. Time pressure, especially on two-career families, could only be a marginal
candidate. Some familiar themes remained though:
Changes in family structure (i.e. with more and more people living alone), are a
possible element as conventional avenues to civic involvement are not well-
designed for single and childless people.
Suburban sprawl has fractured the spatial integrity of people’s. They travel much
further to work, shop and enjoy leisure opportunities. As a result there is less
time available (and less inclination) to become involved in groups. Suburban
sprawl is a very significant contributor.
Electronic entertainment, especially television, has profoundly privatized leisure
time. The time we spend watching television is a direct drain upon involvement in
groups and social capital building activities. It may contribute up to 40 per cent of
the decline in involvement in groups.
However, generational change came out as a very significant factor. A "long civic