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." Course Hero. 6 Feb. 2018. Web. 23 July 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/>.

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Course Hero. "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide." February 6, 2018. Accessed July 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/.

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Course Hero, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed July 23, 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 4, Chapter 20 : So What? (Health and Happiness) | Summary

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Summary

Health and well-being, says Putnam, are strongly tied to social connectedness. In fact, he says, suicide is "a sociologically predictable consequence of the degree to which one is integrated into society." In other words social capital helps protect people from illness, depression, and suicide.

Putnam goes on to describe studies that have established "social connectedness is one of the most powerful determinants of our well-being." According to these studies, says Putnam, social capital can help prevent everything from coughs and colds to heart disease, cancer, and premature death. Social capital may also, he says, help stimulate our immune systems. He presents evidence that suggests people who move from an area of high social capital to an area of low social capital experience a decline in health.

If we are becoming less socially connected, says Putnam, we could be heading into a serious health challenge. Fortunately, though, it takes very little social connection to improve health outcomes. In fact, he says, "If you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half." This simple change can be more important to health than quitting smoking, exercising, or losing weight.

Analysis

This chapter suggests lack of social connections can lead to a huge range of physical and psychological challenges. Some of these challenges are so significant they can lead to premature death. Perhaps the most important insight in this chapter, however, is even minimal social connection through a social organization or group can have a profound positive impact. In fact, he notes, increased social engagement requires surprisingly little effort. The biggest "happiness returns" from social engagement in clubs and groups "appear to come between 'never' and 'once a month.'" It is possible to overdo social involvement: too much involvement can actually lead to a decrease in happiness.

Putnam proves his point with the use of multiple charts and statistical analyses, all of which show the same general results. The charts are captioned with statements such as "Health is Better in High-Social-Capital States," "Mortality Is Lower in High-Social-Capital States," and "Americans Don't Feel as Healthy as We Used To." He then makes a link between health, mortality, and happiness, suggesting that lack of social capital can lead to depression.

If lack of social capital (or loneliness) can lead to poor health and depression, can more social capital lead to happiness (and health)? The answer seems to be yes. In fact, says Putnam, "Regular club attendance, volunteering, entertaining, or church attendance is the happiness equivalent of getting a college degree or more than doubling your income."

In short, while constant socializing may not be an ideal, says Putnam, "the Beatles got it right: we all 'get by with a little help from our friends.'" This perspective is the most important theme of the book, and with this chapter Putnam sets up a strong case for taking action toward improving Americans' social capital for the 21st century.

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