Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Study Guide

Robert Putnam

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Course Hero, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed September 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Section 2, Chapter 7 : Trends in Civic Engagement and Social Capital (Altruism, Volunteering, and Philanthropy) | Summary

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Summary

Is doing good for people by donating money or goods likely to increase social capital? Putnam addresses this question and concludes that "doing good for other people, however laudable, is not part of the definition of social capital." Volunteering time is a good way to meet and engage with others, thus building social capital. Giving money or goods is not.

Putnam argues people who are involved with community life are much more likely to give both time and money to others. In fact, joiners "are nearly ten times more generous with their time and money than nonjoiners." This is true across economic and demographic divides: being busy or poor doesn't necessarily make you less likely to give, but being socially isolated does.

According to Putnam, many of the most active volunteers are seniors who grew up during the 1940s and 1950s, while those who grew up in the baby boom are less likely to volunteer. As volunteering is closely connected with good citizenship and political involvement, this is a problem. On the other hand, Putnam notes, members of Generation X (people born between 1984 and 2004) are very involved with volunteer work. In fact, he says, "young Americans in the 1990s displayed a commitment to volunteerism without parallel among their immediate predecessors." This is a hopeful trend, says Putnam, though he worries millennials will "have their hands full if they are to make up for" their parents' and grandparents' disappearance from the philanthropic world.

Analysis

One of the most important points in this chapter is that doing good for others is not sufficient to build social capital. Thus, while baby boomers who grew up in the 1960s may be generous with their money, their generosity is not likely to result in collaboration or community.

While Putnam doesn't actually say "writing a check isn't a worthy way of giving to others," he implies this is the case. In fact, he even suggests elderly volunteers are "exceptionally good citizens" because they choose to give of their time as well as of their money. He then suggests baby boomers are likely to be "civic dropouts" even if they are generous donors to causes they care about.

On the other hand, Putnam is somewhat hopeful about millennials. When the book was written millennials were young, but he nevertheless believed they might help to redeem problems caused by their baby boomer parents.

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