Washington Post: Chesco’s Top-Ranked ‘Social Capital’ May Have Inoculated It from Severe COVID-19 Outbreaks

Mark Hostutler
Image via Pete Bannan, MediaNews Group.
A group of women enjoys an outdoor meal, pre-pandemic, at Limoncello in West Chester.

New research suggests that, with social factors at the heart of any pandemic response, communities with a high amount of social capital – what experts refer to as interconnectedness and communal trust – experienced less severe outbreaks of coronavirus in 2020, writes Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.

Research by Christos Makridis of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cary Wu of York University in Toronto and published in the scientific journal PLOS One assesses whether the level of social capital in a community predicts the severity of the pandemic there. Social capital refers to “features of social organization, such as networks, norms, and trust, that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.”

“We find that moving a county from the 25th to the 75th percentile of the distribution of social capital would lead to an 18 percent and 5.7 percent decline in the cumulative number of infections and deaths,” Makridis and Wu wrote.

Their research incorporated a social capital index (see video below) previously developed by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee that considers factors like family structure, parental behaviors, social ties, political engagement, trust in institutions, crime, and charitable giving.

That index ranked Chester County as having the highest amount of social capital of any county in Pennsylvania. Nationally, Chester County ranked 608th out of 2,992 counties, or in the 80th percentile.

Chester County has had less COVID-19 cases and COVID-19-related deaths than Berks, Bucks, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties.

“When individuals have a greater concern for others,” Makridis and Wu concluded, “they are more willing to follow hygienic practices and social distancing.”

Click here to read more about how social factors have been inoculating some communities against coronavirus in The Washington Post.