There are different definitions of social capital and SHE’s definition emphasizes social capital in relation to children and the school setting.

Social capital is seen as a resource that enhances the resilience and abilities of individuals and/or communities to maintain health by providing social support and facilitating collective actions. In relation to children, evidence suggests that social capital in the school context improves children’s health. Working with social capital in the school setting can be complex and it is important to understand which aspect of social capital a project or intervention in a school is targeting.

Social capital can be subdivided into horizontal and vertical social capital1.

  • Horizontal social capital describes the relationships that exist among people or groups of equals or near equals.  Horizontal social capital is about bonding and refers to the relationships children have with their equals such as other classmates
  • Vertical social capital describes the relationships of unequal individuals or groups. The inequality is about different types of access to resources and power such as the relationship between teachers and children

Social capital can also be subdivided into cognitive and structural social capital1.

  • Structural social capital reflects an individual’s connectedness to a given community (e.g. participation in organizations) For example participation in extracurricular activities, school clubs or after-school centres
  • Cognitive social capital reflects feelings of trust, norms of reciprocity, connectedness, or what people ‘feel’.  For example, a child’s perceptions of trust and support and the sense of belonging that arises from interactions and networks in school.

To understand SHE’s definition of social capital the following historical facts can be useful.

  • Bourdieu (1986)2 defined social capital as the capital of social connections, mutual acquaintances, and social recognition
  • Coleman (1988)3 referred to social capital as features of the social structure that might facilitate actions of individuals within the social structure itself. For instance, parental care may be seen as a social norm that facilitates children’s subsequent activity and success in society; social relationships per se are a form of social capital as they establish obligations, expectations, and trustworthiness
  • Putnam, Leonardi & Nanenetti (1993)4 defined social capital as those “features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions”
  • Ghosh & Ray (1996)5 and Kranton (1996)6 named trust as a determinant of social connections as a minimum amount of trust is required to initiate a social interaction. Trust favors cooperation, without the need of creating long-standing personalized relationships and processes of reputation building
  • The World Bank (2011)7adopted a definition of “Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together”.

    1Stjernqvist NW, Sabinsky M, Morgan A, et al. Building school-based social capital through 'We Act - Together for Health' - a quasi-experimental study. BMC Public Health. 2018;18(1):1141. Published 2018 Sep 26. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-6026-0

    2Bourdieu, P. 1986. “The Forms of Capital.” Pp. 241–58 in Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education, edited by J. G. Richardson. New York: Greenwood Press.

    3Coleman, James S. 1988. "Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital." The American Journal of Sociology 94: S95.

    4Putnam RD, Leonardi R, Nanenetti R (1993). Making democracy work: civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.

    5Parikshit Ghosh, Debraj Ray, Cooperation in Community Interaction Without Information Flows, The Review of Economic Studies, Volume 63, Issue 3, July 1996, Pages 491–519,

    6Kranton, R. (1996). Reciprocal Exchange: A Self-Sustaining System. The American Economic Review, 86(4), 830-851. Retrieved from

    7World Bank. What Is Social Capital? World Bank. Available online: (accessed on 06 January 2020).

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