Social capital is a concept that refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. It can be seen as a measure of the connections within and between social networks, involving the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions. Social capital is relevant to health because it operates through psychological and biological processes to improve individual’s lives (Putnam 2000). It is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together’ (The World Bank 1999). 

A UK framework for measuring social capital has been developed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It identifies a number of different dimensions: social participation1, reciprocity and trust, social networks and social support, civic participation2; and views of the local area. These are referenced throughout this section.  

Two measures of early childhood experience, ‘happiness in childhood’ and ‘relationship with parents/guardian’, are also included in this domain, although strictly speaking these are not measures of social capital.

Click on our infographic to see the key facts from this indicator set. Social capital infographic - if you require a transcript or an accessible version please email info@gcph.co.uk

In terms of some measures, such as volunteering, levels of trust and social contact with friends and relatives, Glasgow has lower levels of social capital than other UK cities. The social capital measures gathered here highlight a split in behaviour and attitudes between those living in our deprived and non-deprived communities, with social capital generally being lower in more deprived neighbourhoods.

Volunteering, a measure of social participation, is lower in Glasgow than in most other Scottish cities and in comparison to Liverpool and Manchester.

In Glasgow, over 70% of survey respondents have a positive perception of reciprocity and trust - 77% for reciprocity and 73% for trust. Positive perceptions of reciprocity and trust are highest in the least deprived parts of Glasgow and lowest in the most deprived areas.  In comparison to Liverpool, levels of perceived reciprocity were lower in Glasgow and comparable to those in Liverpool.  Levels of trust were lower in Glasgow compared to both Liverpool and Manchester.

Data provide a mixed picture of the strength of social networks and social support in the city. Although rising, internet access levels in Glasgow (83% of households had access to the internet in 2018) are below the national average and below the level in most other Scottish cities.  In a 2011 health and well-being survey, ten per cent of respondents from Glasgow said they felt isolated from their family and friends, with double the proportion feeling isolated in the most deprived group of respondents compared to the least deprived group. In a study comparing Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester, more respondents in Glasgow (79%) said they spoke to their neighbours most days than in Liverpool (73%) and in Manchester (68%), but social media contact with friends and relatives appeared less frequent in Glasgow compared with Liverpool and, especially, Manchester. 

The GCPH have produced a synthesis of learning about social contexts and health. Social contexts can be understood as the relationships and networks of support that people experience, the interconnections within communities, and the involvement of people and communities in decisions that affect their lives. Access the report on the GCPH website.

There is a mixed picture in terms of civic participation in Glasgow, as measured by ability to influence decisions and voter turnout. 

In 2018, 20% of adults in Glasgow felt they could influence decisions in their local authority, similar to the figures for Scotland as a whole.  In 2011, compared to Liverpool and Manchester, a slightly higher proportion of Glaswegians felt they could influence decisions in their city.

However, voter turnout in elections is clearly lower in Glasgow than elsewhere.  A lower proportion of the electorate in Glasgow have taken part in Scottish Parliamentary elections and recent UK General elections than in other Scottish cities.

That said, levels of voter turnout at general elections have risen across the UK and in Glasgow; at the 2001 UK General election, turnout in Glasgow was 46%, but since then levels of voter turnout have risen and in the 2019 UK General Election voter turnout in Glasgow was 60%. In the last Scottish Parliamentary elections held in May 2016, voter turnout increased across Scotland and in every Glasgow constituency. Notably, the gap in voter turnout between Glasgow and Scotland has narrowed slightly. 

In Glasgow, the vast majority of residents rate their local neighbourhood as a good place to live (92%, 2018) but this is lower than in Scotland’s other major cities and is also lower among people living in the most deprived communities (86%). In comparison to Liverpool and Manchester, fewer Glaswegians described any neighbourhood issues as being a ‘big’ problem.  Compared to other Scottish cities, fewer Glaswegians (75%) reported feeling safe walking alone in their neighbourhood at night.

The data on the Understanding Glasgow website comes from a variety of administrative sources and surveys, and the frequency of updates to these sources varies. The graphs and text on each page should indicate the period to which an indicator refers.  In some cases, where more recently published data is not available, we still use older published sources, such as the 2011 Census. Find out more about the timeliness of data presented on this website.


1.     Social participation is represented by volunteering

2.     Civic Participation is represented by influencing decisions and voter turnout


Robert Putnam (2000) Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community, New York: Simon and Schuster: 288-290

The World Bank (1999). ‘What is Social Capital?

The GCPH have produced a synthesis of learning about social contexts and health. Social contexts can be understood as the relationships and networks of support that people experience, the interconnections within communities, and the involvement of people and communities in decisions that affect their lives. 

Additional Resources

  • Resource
    Sunday, 1 November 2009

    Miniature Glasgow - Video

    An extension of the GCPH's work profiling Glasgow's health, produced in collaboration with the International Future Forum.
View more Resources »