Lower degrees of 'social capital' predict higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases

The amount of trust, reciprocity and cooperation among community members working together to achieve common goals referred to as "social capital" by behavioral scientists, is a predictor of sexually transmitted infectious diseases and risky sexual behaviors, according to research by Emory University investigators. The investigators found that lower amounts of social capital were associated with higher rates of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as with higher rates of risky adolescent sexual behaviors. The research will be reported Thursday at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

"Although the amount of social capital in a particular society previously has been correlated with violence and mortality, its relationship to infectious diseases has received little attention," said David Holtgrave, Ph.D., professor of behavioral science and health education in Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, and one of the study investigators. "In making that connection for the first time, we found that social capital is a very good predictor of infectious diseases including AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a predictor of adolescent risk for these diseases."

In 1999, in 48 of 50 states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), the investigators examined the relationship between social capital, poverty and income inequality, AIDS case rates and STD rates (syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia). They found that social capital was a significant predictor of all four diseases, explaining between 25% and 45% of the variance in the rate of each disease. They also found that social capital was a significant predictor of 10 out of 14 behavioral variables, including current sexual activities, early sexual debut, and greater number of partners. Poverty and income inequality were much less strong predictors of these disease and behavior outcomes.

In order to measure social capital, the investigators used Putnam's measure

Contact: Holly Korschun
Emory University Health Sciences Center

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