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Disentangling the directions of associations between structural social capital and mental health: Longitudinal analyses of gender, civicengagement and depressive symptoms
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS).
2016 (English)In: Social Science and Medicine, ISSN 0277-9536, E-ISSN 1873-5347, Vol. 163, 135-143 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The present paper analysed the directions of associations between individual-level structural socialcapital, in the form of civic engagement, and depressive symptoms across time from age 16e42 years inSwedish men and women. More specifically, we asked whether civic engagement was related to changesin depressive symptoms, if it was the other way around, or whether the association was bi-directional.This longitudinal study used data from a 26-year prospective cohort material of 1001 individuals inNorthern Sweden (482 women and 519 men). Civic engagement was measured by a single-item questionreflecting the level of engagement in clubs/organisations. Depressive symptoms were assessed by acomposite index. Directions of associations were analysed by means of gender-separate cross-laggedstructural equation models. Models were adjusted for parental social class, parental unemployment,parental health, and family type at baseline (age 16). Levels of both civic engagement and depressivesymptoms were relatively stable across time. The model with the bestfit to data showed that, in men,youth civic engagement was negatively associated with depressive symptoms in adulthood, thus sup-porting the hypothesis that involvement in social networks promotes health, most likely through pro-vision of social and psychological support, perceived influence, and sense of belonging. Accordingly,interventions to promote civic engagement in young men could be a way to prevent poor mental healthfor men later on in life. No cross-lagged effects were found among women. We discuss this genderdifference in terms of gendered experiences of civic engagement which in turn generate differentmeanings and consequences for men and women, such as civic engagement not being as positive forwomen’s mental health as for that of men. We conclude that theories on structural social capital andinterventions to facilitate civic engagement for health promoting purposes need to acknowledgegendered life circumstances.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 163, 135-143 p.
Keyword [en]
Sweden, Mental health, Longitudinal, Social capital, Gender, Cross-lagged structural equation models, Social networks, Life course
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-132086DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.005ISI: 000381958300016OAI: diva2:948154
Available from: 2016-07-08 Created: 2016-07-08 Last updated: 2016-10-03Bibliographically approved

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Almquist B., Ylva
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