Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community


Robert Putnam


Touchstone New York 2001





1 civic organizations with long histories are being forced to close their doors.

Not that old members are dropping out, but that new ones aren’t coming in.

The World War Two generation was the peak in public involvement.

In the 1960s voting and faith in government peaked. 

19 physical capital refers to objects (screwdriver) human capital (college education and such individual and collectively counted), social capital refers the connections among individuals, the social networks, norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that come from them

Social capital has been invented as a term independently six times in the century.  The first use was by Progressive era reformer L. J. Hanifan. ( a supervisor of schools)

22 social capital can be benevolent and malevolent.  There is bonding (within groups) and bridging (between groups) social capital. 

24 Debates and worry about social capital have been coming and going for two centuries in the US. 

27 There are many strands of evidence that for the first two0thirds of the twentieth century Americans engaged more and more deeply in the life of their communities.  Then, it reversed drastically. 





33 virtually all the long-run decline in turnout is due to the gradual replacement of voters who came of age before or during the New Deal and World War Two by the generation that came later. 


35.  This is only a surface indicator. Voters are more likely to be interested in politics, to give to charity, to volunteer, to serve on juries, to attend community school board meetings, to participate in public demonstrations, and to cooperate with their fellow citizens on community affairs.  The average college grad today knows little more about public affairs than did the average high school graduate in the 1940s. 


Newspaper readership and political participation has dwindled and political contributions are up.  All is TV now. 


40 financial capital is replacing social capital. 


46 In absolute terms the declines are greatest among the better educated.  But the poorly educated participated less to begin with.  Attendance at public meetings fell from 34 to 18 percent among the well educated, but from 20 to 8 percent among those who only graduated high school and 7 to 3 percent amongst those who didn’t. 



49 there are three types of voluntary associations, community based, church based and work based.  The number of the first type are up, but they have fewer members.  Many have no actual participants.  The same for professional groups.


60 between 1973 and 1994 the number of men and woman who took any leadership in any local organization – from “old fashioned” fraternal organizations to new age encounter groups – was sliced by more than 50 percent. 



67 Religious attendance is the best predictor of how many people you will talk with each day.  75-80 percent of church goers give to charity.  Only 55-60 percent of non-church members.  50-60 percent of church members volunteer only 30-35 percent of non-church members do. 


70 The percentage of Americans who identify themselves as having “no  religion” has risen steadily from  2 percent in 1967 to 11 percent n the 1990s. 

Church attendance rose from 1943 or so to 1957 or so.  It has dropped ever since.  By 1997 it had gone from about 47% to 37%.  Our actual attendance has and involvement  in religious activities has fallen by 25 to 50 percent. 

75 We lose the moderates in religion and then we are divided between the devout and the entirely unchurched. 

Those claiming Protestantism dropped by 12 to 15 percent in the last third of our century. 



 81 Since the id-1950s when union membership peaked, the unionized portion of the workforce has nose-dived from 32.5 percent to 14.1 percent.  Moreover, the type of involvement in unions has slackened.  Unions are now seen mostly as hired bargaining agents, not as a social movement. 


The change from blue collars to white collars is only about one quarter of the story.  We have become more skeptical about membership. 


Membership in professional organizations is up. 


Divorce is up, work is where the hearth is.  Some say this has replaced social capital organizations.  We don’t work alone in fields, we work together in the office.  BUT


87 no evidence supports the increase in in workplace socializing over the last decades.  Co-workers account for less than 10 percent of friends.  The ties at workplace are casual.  Neighbors are more likely to be listed as friends than co-workers. 


Furthermore, work has now become temporary.  And this reality has made people want to “put their head down” and focus more narrowly on their work.


Pg. 91 In 1955 44 percent of folks said they enjoyed work more than home.  By 1999 only 16 percent felt that way.  Recent surveys suggest that nearly one in four employees is chronically angry on the job.


Two-Thirds of employers record employee voice mail, e-mail or phone calls. 



93 Schmoozers spend many hours in informal conversation and communication. 

Machers follow current events, attend church and club meetings, volunteer, give to charity, work on community projects etc.  


Formal community involvement is relatively modest in early life, peaks in late middle ages and then declines with retirement.  Informal social involvement follows the opposite path. 


Machers are disproportionately homeowners.  Schmoozers are renters and frequent movers. 


97 Americans are turning from machers to being schmoozers.  But our social engagements are dropping off drastically.  We eat dinner together less often.  Families eat together less and more and more folk eat alone

101 Families eat and travel together less.  We go to bars and nightclubs less.  Fast food joints are on the rise.  We buy less playing cards. 


107 Overall our time is towards ourselves and our immediate family and away from the wider community


Sports participation is down, but watching is up.  This is not due to generational change. 


112  Only bowling has held its own.  Between 1980 and 1993 bowling increased by 10 percent and the number of leagues decreased by 40 percent.  More bowl than vote.  The decline is threatening bowling alleys because leagues buy more beer and pizza.  That is where the money is.


Audiences are growing for film and other passive entertainment.




116 There is a difference, says Dewey, in doing with and doing for.  Doing good for others, laudable though it is, is not part of the definition of social capital. 


Social networks do increase time and money given to good causes.  Both volunteering and philanthropy are twice as common among Americans than citizens of other countries. 


The wealthy are the most generous with time and money.


119 Charitable giving, blood donation and such are more common in small towns than in big cities.  Religious and secular organization members give and so do schmoozers. 


124 But in 1960 we gave away about $1 dollar for for every $2 we spent on recreation.  In 1997 we gave away less than .50 cents for every $2 we spent on recreation.  This after a steady giving increase that continued through the depression


Volunteering is also up.   We volunteered a little over six times a year in the 1970s.  But by the 1990s that was up to 8 times a year. 


But virtually all of this increase is due to those aged sixty and over. 


129 People in their thirties volunteered 29 percent less often than people of the same age in 1975.  We are riding, social capital speaking on the wave of a “long civic generation”.  Between 1982 and 1997 volunteer firefighters fell by a quarter. 




135.  Life expectancy is enhanced in trustful communities.  transactional costs” are lowered when we trust.  We do not need to worry about getting back the right change.  We need police present to enforce agreements. 


In large communities reputation is less important.  There is the thin crust, with the known other and the thick crust with the generalized other. 


137 those who engage in community life are more trusting and more trustworthy.  Those disengaged feel like they are surrounded by miscreants. 

In all societies the “have-nots” are less trusting.  This may reflect reality.

142.  Youth are less trusting than old people were in their day. 

Unlisted phone numbers and aggressive drivers are up.  Hitchhiking is gone.  

Crime rates in America began to rise sharply in the middle of the 1960s, just when measures of social capital went down.  As a fraction of the total U.S. workforce, employment of guards, police and lawyers grew relatively little for most of the twentieth century.  We had fewer lawyers in 1970 than in 1900.  Then the number exploded.  Preventive lawyering is way up.  Transactional costs too. 





Wuthnow has said that small groups are way up.  The evidence is flimsy for all but self-help Anonymous groups.  It is a small percent and not very civic. 


152 friendship networks are fertilizer for social movements.  Grassroots ones.  But the new ones are mailing list ones.  These are inegalitarian as they are money based.  By 1990 Greenpeace was mailing out forty-eight million letters annually. 


161 Extreme groups are the last stand.  Fundamentalists used to abjure political involvement, now they thrive on it.  They are older, whiter and more educated than others.  It is here, not in ideological heirs of the sixties that we find the strongest civic engagement.  


The telephone was thought to revolutionize society.  In 1933 they were found to reinforce old social networks, not make new ones.  If facilitates schmoozing, but it hasn’t affected machers. 

The young, electronically connected, are less likely to seek out political information on the net.  The internet cannot be blamed for downturn in social capital because  of the timing. 

The “digital divide” is great. 


175 Telephone communication transfers less info than face to face.  Particularly those about emotions, cooperation and trustworthiness come via the face. 

Drive by relationships and niche communities are facilitated.  In 1997 model BMW discussion groups conversation cannot ramble onto generalized topics. 


One survey did find that internet users watch less tv.  But an experimental study found that extensive Internet usage seemed to cause greater social isolation and even depression. 


It is up to us what we do with it.


180 The great exceptions to the general decline in civic disengagement are 1) Youth Volunteering, 2) the internet 3) evangelical Christians 4) self – help groups. 





183 We are still more socially engaged than many other countries. 

184 Within living memory we were much more active socially and politically active generous and trustful.  Beginning in the 1960s it crumbled.  Why?

There are many guessed that are listed on page 187. 



But it isn’t clear we are working harder.  Working hours have held pretty steady. 

Employed people are more active socially and civically.  Among workers, the more you work, the more active you are generally. 

192 Busy folk watch much less television.  And the civic decline is among all groups (employed or not). 

193 Unemployment seems to, not radicalize folk, but make them more passive.


The only leisure activity positively correlated with financial anxiety is watching tv. 


The fraction of women who work outside the home went from one in three in 1950s to two in three in the 1990s.  And women are a bit more volunteeristic.

196 During the same time the decline in actual organizational activity in recent years is concentrated among women, employed women are actually spending more time on organizations than before.  The decline in schmoozing has been concentrated among non-employed women. 

The greatest decline has been among traditional stay at home moms. 


Especially with single moms, working outside the home is positively correlated with civic engagement. 


200 For both women who work out of necessity and those who work for satisfaction, Those who have a part time job volunteer most, those who stay at home second most and those who work full time do the least. 


201 One practical way to increase community engagement would be to make it easier for women and men to work part time.  Full time work inhibits a woman’s social involvement.  Women who work part time out of choice are the highest participants in public life. 


211 Segregatory zoning policies have excluded such gathering places as local shops and restaurants from residential areas, at the same time that federal tax policy encouraged the shopping center boom. 

Rather than at the grocery store or five-and-dime on Main Street, where faces were familiar, today’s suburbanites shop in large, impersonal malls. 


213 By the end of the 1990s, 80-90 percent of all Americans drove to work alone.  Between 1983 and 1995 the average commuting trip grew 37 percent longer in miles. 

Each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent.  It even lowers civic engagement among non-commuters. 




231 Dependence on television for entertainment is not merely a significant predictor of civic disengagement.  It is the single most consistent predictor he has discovered. 


238 Political scientists John Brehm and Wendy Rahn found that TV watching has such a powerful impact on civic engagement that one hour less daily viewing is the civic-vitamin equivalent of five or six years of education.


242 One reason television viewing is so negatively linked to social connectedness is that it creates a pseudo personal connection.  Folks talk to their toasters and even more to their tvs.


Political scientist Shanto Iyengar has shown that watching coverage of problems like poverty leads viewers to attribute those problems to individual rather than societal failings. 


243 The more time one spent watching news, the more active one is in the community, whereas the more time spent watching soap operas, game shows, and talk shows, the less active one is in the community.  So what you watch is important. 

Prosocial programming can have pro-social effects, such as encouraging altruism.




261 For psych chapter X’ers are much less likely to trust other people than people their age were twenty years ago:  the fraction of high school seniors who agreed that “most people can be trusted” was sliced exactly in half between the later boomers of 197 (of whom 46 percent were trusting) and the late X’ers of 1995 (of whom 23 percent were trusting). 


These distinction persisted when the X’ers moved into adulthood.  Only 54 percent of the X’er adults feel guilty when they don’t vote, as compared with over 70 percent for older generations.  They are, in fact, much less likely to vote.


Different methodologies have confirmed a long-term trend toward increasing depression and suicide that is generationally based.  Depression has struck earlier and much more pervasively in each successive generation, beginning with the cohort born after 1940.


Between 1950 and 1995 the suicide rate among adolescents aged fifteen to nineteen more than quadrupled, while the rate among young adults aged twenty to twenty-four, beginning at a higher level, nearly tripled. 


This rise coincided with a decline with an equally in suicide amongst older adults.


263 In the 1940s and 1950s youth were happier than adults, by 1975 age and happiness were unrelated.  By 1999, however, younger people were unhappier than older folk. 


At mid-century young Americans were happier and healthier.  At century’s end that same generation (now in retirement) remains distinctively well-adjusted psychologically and physiologically. 


264 Educational sociologists Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson reported that the average teenager typically spends three and a half hours alone each day . . . Adolescents spend more time alone than with family or friends.”


Compared to those in the 1950s, they report fewer, weaker, and more fluid friendships.  Martn Seligman points out that the depression epidemic is due to “rampant individualism”. 


266 In society private socializing has gone down.  Electronic entertainment explains much.  This has been very pronounced generationally.  Public engagements, such as religious observance, trust, voting, following thenews, and volunteering are down.  Elders also vote and trust more. 

There has been a 60 percent fall in club meetings and a 60 percent rise in families that dine alone.  One half the decline can be attributed to generational change. 


267 Divorce doesn’t fit the time frame for a cause.  The divorce rate didn’t go up until the 1970s.  Neither economic adversity nor affluence nor government policies can easily be tied to the generational decline in civic engagement.


Several other factors fit the evidence better.  First the generational reformulation of our central mystery raises the possibility that the wartime Zeitgeist of national unity and patriotism that culminated in 1945 reinforced civic-mindedness. 


William Graham Sumner in 1906 noted that “The relation of comradeship and peace in the we-group  and that of hostility and war towards the other-groups are correlative.  Union membership (it was noted in ch 5) has historically grown rapidly during and immediately after major wars. 


268    There was an extraordinary burst of civic activity that occurred during and after the Second world War.  Virtually every major association whose membership history we examined – from the PTA to the Boy Scouts sharply expanded its “market share” between the mid-1940s and the mid-1960s. 


The war ushered in a period of intense patriotism and civic activism locally.  It directly touched nearly everyone in the country.  Sixteen million men and women served, including six million volunteers. 


Patriotic themes, including civilian service – civil defense, rationing, War Bond sales – pervaded popular culture, from radio to shows to the comics section of newspapers, from Hollywood to Broadway to Tin Pan Alley.  Historian Richard Lingeman reported, “American flags were displayed everywhere – in front of homes, public buildings, fraternal lodges. Elks, Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary, even trailer camps, gas stations, and motor courts had them.” 

The war reinforced solidarity even among strangers: “You just felt that the stranger sitting next to you in a restaurant, or someplace, felt the same way you did about the basic issues.”


In Chicago in April 1942 sixteen thousand block captains took the oath of allegiance in a mass ceremony. 

Young people took the lead in the Victory Garden program.


269    There were nearly twenty million Victory Garden in yielding 40 percent of all vegetables grown in the country. 


270 Lingeman lists the activities of Gary Indiana eighth-graders over two years during World War Two.  What a variety of participation.  Huge!


Julie Siebel covered the Junior Leagues. Pg 485 has the dissertation references.  Get it!!


Lloyd Warner cited in Polenberg looks good too.  He said, the impact of the war on the town he studied was an “unconscious well-being” because “everyone is doing something to help in the common desperate enterprise in a co-operative rather than a private spirit.”  Richard Polenberg added, “To a large extent, participation in a common cause tended to enhance feelings of comradeship and well-being.”  And they led to the civic generation. 


It was important that celebrities enlisted.  All four of Roosevelt’s sons did.  They had easy assignments, but it was very different than Vietnam.


There were riots in Detroit and anti Semitism and other bad stuff that Polenberg reports, but over all . . . 



283 Elites have been divesting, but so has everyone else.  So transnationalism cannot solely be blamed. 


284 has a chart.  About fifty percent of the change has to do with generational change.  TV takes a part of this so it is 25%, Work and Sprawl each take 12.5%.  12.5% is undetermined. 




290 Lack of social capital decline effects:  child welfare and education; healthy and productive neighborhoods; economic prosperity; health and happiness; and democratic citizenship and government performance.  Social capital makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.




297 The links between social capital and positive child development is as close to perfect a social scientists ever find.  297 has “kids count index of child welfare’.

Teen pregnancy, drop out, crime, single parent status etc.    

Social capital is especially important in keeping teenagers from dropping out of school, hanging out on the streets and having babies out of wedlock. 

A state’s racial composition and rate of single-parent families also affect child well being, though far less consistently or strongly than do poverty and low social capital.

Education level of the adult population does not have a significant influence on child outcomes, after poverty, social capital and demographics are taken into account. 


300 Students do better in states with high social capital. 

Even communities with many material and cultural advantages do a poor job of educating their kids if the adults in those communities don’t connect with one another. Why?

Not sure but,

Because, first where civic engagement in community affairs in general is high, teachers report higher levels of parental support and lower levels of student misbehavior. 


Note to self – parental involvement and contentious anger are different. 


Second, in states with high social capital they spend less time watching television.  Television viewing is negatively correlated with success in school. 


In the late 1980s Chicago launched a path-breaking education reform initiative whose cornerstone was parent participation.  It did not work as well as hoped.  See note to self above. 


Also smaller schools allow kids to take more leadership roles in clubs. 



312 My fate depends on not only whether I study, stay off drugs, go to church, but also on whether my neighbors do these things.


It is such settings too that youths are most prone to create their own social capital in the form of gangs or neighborhood “crews.”  Robert Sampson found.


His study of Chicago neighborhoods found that two characteristics – mutual trust and altruism among neighbors, and their willingness to intervene when the see children misbehaving – went a long way to explain why some neighborhoods are less crime prone than are others. 


316 Where constructive social capital and institutions are allowed to wither, gangs emerge to fill the void.  Word!!



319 A growing body of research suggests that where trust and social networks flourish, individuals, firms, neighborhoods and even nations prosper.


More distant acquaintances are called “weak ties” link you to unexpected opportunities and so are more economically valuable. 


320 Financing happens through immigrant community ties. 

321 church attendance is the strongest predictor of employment among black youth. 

322 An Atlantic study found that  each employed person in one’s social network increased one’s annual income by $1400. 

323 homeowners who are also good neighbors take their social capital to the bank.

324 As the Silicon valley shows, communities that provide networking create dynamism. 

325 Fukuyama has argued that nations that have high levels of social capital will dominate this century.  We do not squander on legal assurances. 


326 Durheim’s seminal Suicide showed that self-destruction is predicted by not being integrated into the community. 

Many health phenomenon are related to social connectedness. 

Isolated animals get hardening of the arteries.

Isolated folk are between two and five times more likely to die from all causes!!

333 As one gets more income, life contentment increases.  Money can buy happiness.  But marriage is more important. 

Attending college is the “happiness equivalent” of doubling your income.

334 Since the Fab four topped the charts happiness has steadily declined. 


336 Jefferson said that “making every citizen an acting member of the government, and in the offices nearest and most interesting to him, will attach him by his strongest feelings to the independence of his country, and its republican constitution.”


Mill wrote without shared participation in public life a citizen “never thinks of any collective interest, of any objects to be pursued jointly with others, but only in competition with them. 


Michael Schuderson concluded that the Founders “were far from sharing a pluralist vision, still attached as they were to the notions of consensus, property, virtue, and deference that came naturally to them.”  Factions were anathema to them. 


344 There has been a professionalization of politics.  People mail in checks or write letters to government officials.  But these are private activities.  Political strategies get more shrill in such an environment. To generate contributions you emphasize threats from the group’s enemies and posture, posture, posture. 

These large organizations are called “teriary”.  They are not a substitute for participation because most political decisions do not take place in Washington DC. 


Italy study:  Beginning in the 1970s, Italy created a set of potentially powerful regional governments  Differences in success were not the result of Affluence, social stability or political harmony.  Strong traditions of civic engagement – voter turnout, newspaper readership, membership in choral societies and literary circles, Lions Clubs, and soccer clubs – were all hallmarks of a successful region. 


346 Civic engagement matters on both the supply and demand sides of government.  On the demand side, engaged citizens expect better government.  On the supply side, the performance of representative government is facilitated by the social infrastructure of civic communities and by the democratic values of both officials and citizens. 


Get Daniel Elazar’s work.  He found three “political” cultures in the US in the 1950s.  A “Traditionalistic culture” in the South.  An individualistic” culture in the Mid-Atlantic and western states; and a “moralistic” culture in the Northeast, upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. 


Social capital-rich “moralistic” states tend to be unusually innovative in public policy and to have merit systems governing the hiring of government employees.




358 People are worried about illiberal effects of Bonding social capital (as opposed to bridging – that is social capital that is within a group as opposed to between groups)  The greatest threat to American liberty comes from the disengaged, not the engaged.  As Amy Gutmann observed. 


The rich do more civic engagement, so is social capital inegalitarian?  In high-social-capital states people people from different social classes are equally likely to attend public meetings, to lead local organizations, and the like.  The opposite is true in low social capital. 

In short, both across space and across time, equality and fraternity are strongly positively correlated. 

Often social capital, it is thought, is made by creating an enemy.  The civil rights organization was made to destroy exclusion.

362 Busing opponents said that local populations increase bonding social capital proponents said it would increase bridging social capital.  Sadly both were probably right. 

The best social capital would have bridging and bonding.  But in reality if we can only get a preponderance of bonding social capital this is better than naught. 

363 Strong ties with intimate friends may ensure chicken soup when you are sick, but weak ties with distant acquaintances are more likely to produce job leads.  From a collective point of view, the scope of the social capital we need depends on the scale of the problems we face. 





382    While reactionary romantics mused about a return to smaller societies during the industrial revolution, the Progressives were too practical for this.  They knew the Industrial Age, for all of its flaws, made material prosperity.  Modernity was a good.


There was a boom in association building.  Most major, broad-guaged civic organizations were created in several decades.  It mirrors an explosion of newspaper reading. 


New groups are mailing list groups.  The gilded age was a great time for fraternal groups.


Many were segregated, morally repugnant to us perhaps,  but these groups were not limited to middle class whites.  The NAACP for example.  Many picnics and what were social groups led to political organizations. 


Many of these ethnic groups had social capital from their home countries transferred here by these groups. 


392 By 1919 one of every eleven people in the country attended a lyceum or Chautauqua every year.  


396 McCormick showed that civic engagement was at the center of the Progressive agenda. 



405 Youth should do locally meaningful civic projects (LA Youth get lighting for their courts).

Make the workplace more family friendly and social. 

More part-time work.

Shrink commute times. 

Mixed-use zoning and pedestrian friendly street grids.    In the end, we will get the physical space we demand. 


Lets make cultural activities and participation a goal. 

A community information Corps to get young poor on – line. 

Social capital impact statements.

Not top down versus bottom up.  Both.  Lastly, multiply picnics.