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What constitutes a health-enabling neighborhood? A grounded theory situational analysis addressing the significance of social capital and gender


  • Eriksson, Malin
  • Emmelin, Maria


Variations in health between neighborhoods are well known and the conceptualization of social capital has contributed to an understanding of how contextual factors influence these differences. Studies show positive health-effects from living in high social capital areas, at least for some population sub-groups. The aim of this qualitative study was to understand what constitutes a ‘health-enabling’ neighborhood. It follows up results from a social capital survey in northern Sweden indicating that the health effects of living in a high social capital neighborhood is gendered in favor of women. A grounded theory situational analysis of eight focus group discussions – four with men and four with women – illustrated similar and different positions on how neighborhood characteristics influence health. A neighborhood, where people say hi to each other (“hi-factor”) and where support between neighbors exist, were factors perceived as positive for health by all, as was a good location, neighborhood greenness and proximity to essential arenas. Women perceived freedom from demands, feeling safe and city life as additional health enabling factors. For men freedom to do what you want, a sense of belonging, and countryside life were important. To have burdensome neighbors, physical disturbances and a densely living environment were perceived as negative for health in both groups while demands for a well styled home and feeling unsafe were perceived as negative for health among women. Neighborhood social capital, together with other elements in the living environment, has fundamental influence on people's perceived health. Our findings do not confirm that social capital is more important for women than for men but that distinctive form of social capital differ in impact. Investing in physical interventions, such as planning for meeting places, constructing attractive green areas, and making neighborhoods walking-friendly, may increase human interactions that is instrumental for social capital and is likely to have health promoting effects for all.

Suggested Citation

  • Eriksson, Malin & Emmelin, Maria, 2013. "What constitutes a health-enabling neighborhood? A grounded theory situational analysis addressing the significance of social capital and gender," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 112-123.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:97:y:2013:i:c:p:112-123
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.08.008

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Snelgrove, John W. & Pikhart, Hynek & Stafford, Mai, 2009. "A multilevel analysis of social capital and self-rated health: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(11), pages 1993-2001, June.
    2. Lomas, Jonathan, 1998. "Social capital and health: Implications for public health and epidemiology," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 47(9), pages 1181-1188, November.
    3. Dietz, Robert D. & Haurin, Donald R., 2003. "The social and private micro-level consequences of homeownership," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 401-450, November.
    4. Engström, Karin & Mattsson, Fredrik & Järleborg, Anders & Hallqvist, Johan, 2008. "Contextual social capital as a risk factor for poor self-rated health: A multilevel analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(11), pages 2268-2280, June.
    5. Altschuler, Andrea & Somkin, Carol P. & Adler, Nancy E., 2004. "Local services and amenities, neighborhood social capital, and health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(6), pages 1219-1229, September.
    6. Eriksson, Malin & Ng, Nawi & Weinehall, Lars & Emmelin, Maria, 2011. "The importance of gender and conceptualization for understanding the association between collective social capital and health: A multilevel analysis from northern Sweden," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 264-273, July.
    7. Stafford, M. & Cummins, S. & Macintyre, S. & Ellaway, A. & Marmot, M., 2005. "Gender differences in the associations between health and neighbourhood environment," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(8), pages 1681-1692, April.
    8. Ziersch, Anna M & Baum, Fran E & MacDougall, Colin & Putland, Christine, 2005. "Neighbourhood life and social capital: the implications for health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 71-86, January.
    9. Wood, Lisa & Frank, Lawrence D. & Giles-Corti, Billie, 2010. "Sense of community and its relationship with walking and neighborhood design," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(9), pages 1381-1390, May.
    10. Macintyre, Sally & Ellaway, Anne & Cummins, Steven, 2002. "Place effects on health: how can we conceptualise, operationalise and measure them?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 125-139, July.
    11. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2003:93:9:1451-1456_5 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Poortinga, Wouter, 2006. "Social relations or social capital? Individual and community health effects of bonding social capital," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 255-270, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ottoni, Callista A. & Sims-Gould, Joanie & Winters, Meghan & Heijnen, Myrthe & McKay, Heather A., 2016. "“Benches become like porches”: Built and social environment influences on older adults’ experiences of mobility and well-being," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 169(C), pages 33-41.
    2. McConnell, Bonnie B., 2016. "Music and health communication in The Gambia: A social capital approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 169(C), pages 132-140.


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