More than a decade ago, I began to explore changes in Americans' civic engagement and social connectedness (for which I borrowed the term “social capital”) and the impact of those changes on our communities and our democracy. My initial ﬁndings, suggesting a remarkable decline in social capital nationwide, appeared in a 1995 article called “Bowling Alone” in the Journal of Democracy. A year later, The American Prospect published “The Strange Disappearance of Civic America,” a preliminary investigation of explanations for the decline.
The closing decades of the twentieth century found Americans growing ever
less connected with one another and with collective life. We voted less, joined
less, gave less, trusted less, invested less time in public affairs, and engaged
less with our friends, our neighbors, and even our families. Our "we" steadily
A year ago the author set off a national debate with his article, "Bowling Alone," which reported a pervasive decline in voluntary association and mutual trust among Americans. Now he sifts through the plausible explanations.
A more extended version of this article, complete with
references, appears in the Winter 1995 issue of PS, a publication of the
American Political Science Association. This work, originally delivered as the
inaugural Ithiel de Sola Pool Lecture, builds on Putnam's earlier articles, "Bowling
Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," Journal of Democracy
(January 1995) and "The Prosperous Community," TAP
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Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. 'Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed, and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.