The role of social capital in social and labour inclusion (Part 1)

This is the first of two posts written by Mario Yapu, a researcher at INESAD in Bolivia, member of the Southern Voice network. This post is based on his research “Social participation in groups like a dimension of the social capital and employment” for the first ILAIPP conference.

In the debate for setting the post-2015 development agenda, equality appears little by little like a critical subject to which others like cohesion and social inclusion are related. Even if ideally we want concepts like equity, social capital, cohesion and inclusion to come together, it is not always possible. Our study has focused on the links between social capital and labour inclusion in Latin America.

It is possible that social relations and networks affect the possibility of finding a job, because they represent sources of information and contacts. From this hypothesis we asked ourselves if social capital has any kind of impact on the possibility to find a job and therefore to foster social and labour inclusion.

Some results of the research

The context matters. What role does social capital play in accessibility to employment? This depends on the context and the groups we are discussing. In fact, many authors have said that social capital has both positive and negative impacts.  Individuals become part of a group according to their interests and goals with the hope of benefiting in some way. However, the groups (institutions, communities or associations), also affect the individual and can alter his or her actions or attitudes. In this sense we notice that social capital used outside of the norms and institutions can lead to relations characterized by clientelism and low transparency.

The social capital can have a negative impact. According to our research, what stands out the most about this subject is the negative assessment people have of those participating in religious groups or political parties in Chile, of the six countries in our study. The negative or positive effects of social capital depend on two factors: the group type (opened or closed) and the sociocultural and economic context generating different kinds of social relations. This is why some groups are focused on community and others on social networks to achieve their goals. Also some social contexts do not necessarily appreciate the representation or membership of some organizations that put more importance on individual assets, which leads to the fact that being a part of a group can have negative effects.

It is possible that social participation – or social capital – have no impact or a negative one the probability of access to employment. We suppose that groups with higher potential of shaping useful social capital are the small groups where the members have a big commitment and vocation, achieving cohesion and trust. In that way, if an individual participates in small groups like sport groups, religious groups or community groups, he has higher chances of being employed. Obviously, with greater trust, the information is better transmitted; which does not occur in bigger groups. For that reason, while smaller groups are minorities (statistically speaking), they play a more effective role when it comes to getting a job.

Social capital seems to not be accumulated. A key question is whether participating in a group in the past has an impact on a better access to employment currently. The answer is that there is no simple accumulation of social capital, even if the results lead us to the thought that actual participation has a bigger impact, because there is more correlation between this participation and the fact to be employed. In short, we cannot make accurate conclusions on the fact that accumulation, in time, of the social capital, would be favourable to access to employment.

The dynamics of social capital are different in urban and rural areas. Each region represents different productive contexts and diverse social and cultural relations, which affect labour perceptions. This phenomenon is also reflected in the different rural/ urban situation in countries like Uruguay and Argentina (compared to Bolivia), which has an impact on the appreciation of different professional skills according to the regions and countries. For instance, agriculture, which is mainly a rural activity, has different required skills than the production or services industries, more common in urban areas. In this regard we have to highlight the fact that in rural areas, the variable of the education level is often not significant or is negative; manual jobs require more professional experience that high education levels.

After many studies, there is room for underlining the gender issue in the employment context. In general the men are more likely than women to be employed. Different studies suggested that the women, poor people, youth and indigenous groups have more difficulty in finding a job, and even more to find a good job. At the same time, other studies on social capital, poverty and communities emphasise the solidarity and social networks existing inside those groups, even if they cannot eliminate the actual social gap.

Finally, regarding the relation between the age and experience of individuals and social capital, on the possibility to find a job, we can state that the younger someone is, the more social capital he needs, and as he gets older and accumulates experience, being part of a group or building social capital loses importance.

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