Social Capital and Health in Latin America: Ecological and Individual Level Analyses



Background: Several studies have evaluated the relationship between social capital and health in North America and Western Europe, although data remain scarce in Latin America. We examined the associations between indicators of social capital and health outcomes in nine Latin American countries. Methods: Design: Cross-sectional ecological and individual-level analyses of the relationships between social capital and health outcomes. Setting: Nine Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela), included in the World Values Survey. Subjects: 14,591 adults over 18 years. Main outcome measures: life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, under-5 mortality rate, and maternal mortality rate (ecological analyses), and odds ratios of reporting good (as opposed to poor) self-rated health (individual-level analyses). Results: Trust was significantly correlated with life expectancy at the cross-national level (r=0.72, p=0.03), and marginally significantly correlated with the maternal mortality rate (r=−0.61, p=0.09). Neither voluntary group participation nor church attendance was correlated with aggregate population health indicators. At the individual level, higher trust was significantly correlated with better self-rated health in five of the nine countries. Group membership was correlated with better health in three countries. Church attendance was correlated with worse health in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Conclusions: Our findings provide preliminary support for the relevance of social capital as a determinant of health in the Latin American region. However, further research is warranted on refining the measurement of social capital in this region.