Social Capital in Rural Southwest Kansas
This study addresses a social capital literature that has targeted a White majority in the United States. Hispanic/Latino audiences, especially new immigrant populations, have not been primary subjects in most studies. Information about the social connectedness of minorities has come from secondary sources. The goal of this study was to understandhow Hispanics/Latinos compare to Anglo, families in rural Kansas, to different levels of social capital. This comparison also looked into the differences of social connectedness and community involvement. The study was done in English and Spanish in order to reach the under-represented population. According to political scientist Robert Putnam (2000), it is through experiences of face-to-face interaction with those from different backgrounds, that people learn to trust each other. Connections create networks that allow social trust to spread throughout society. At the individual level, there has been strong, consistent evidence that social connectedness has positive effects. Individuals have the capacity and the choice to build their social connectedness and community engagement. Those assets can be shared with the collective family, organization, community, state, or country. When individuals have access to networks of supportive and accepting associates, it can generate an array of personal and societal benefits that include preventing or overcoming illness, improving health, supporting child development, mitigating poverty, addressing racial inequalities, preventing crime, and addressing other social concerns. When one builds a stock of personal relationships and other social connections from which he or she can call upon in times of need, it is called social capital. This study, in part, assessed social connectedness and community engagement of people in Kearny County, a rural location in Southwest Kansas that has a 30% Hispanic/Latino population. Surveys were sent to selected households in English and Spanish, and two small focus groups were conducted in the two languages. Statistical analyses indicated support for the hypothesis that Spanish-speaking populations build and maintain social connections and are engaged in community. The independent variables including gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, income, and community durability, were analyzed with dependent variables made of scaled items to measure social connectedness and community engagement. Race/ethnicity, education, and income appeared to be the strongest predictors of social connectedness and community engagement. Implications of the results are discussed.