Fifth Biennial Workshop on Social Capital and Health

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
October 5 – 7, 2014

Co-Chairs: Audrey Laporte (University of Toronto) and Nancy Reichman (Rutgers–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Princeton University).

Sponsors: Funding and other resources were provided by Baycrest Geriatric Centre, Toronto; University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine (Dean’s office); University of Toronto Institute of Health Policy, Management, & Evaluation; and the Canadian Centre for Health Economics at the University of Toronto


The term “social capital” has been invoked in the public health and social science literatures for decades, based on the general notion that health is influenced by factors external to the individual but not among those commonly associated with the health care system.  In broad terms, the idea has been that in social networks and communities there is an intangible asset called social capital, and that the more of this asset the group has, the healthier its members will be.

Despite having theoretical grounding in economics and sociology and having generated a large and growing body of empirical literature, the concept of social capital has not, until recently, taken us far in understanding the extent to which, and how, social networks and communities shape population health and health disparities.  One of the key reasons for the slow progress is that, until very recently, there had been no consistent overarching definition of social capital and no widely accepted taxonomy of types of social capital.  Sometimes social capital has been taken to mean participation in one’s community, other times it has referred to trust and friendships, and still other times it has been taken to mean concrete services provided publicly rather than privately. Social capital can include all of those things, but its characterization in research studies has generally been ad hoc rather than purposive. Other key reasons for the slow progress are that there have been few to no clinical or experimental studies on the effects of social capital and health and that it has been difficult to infer causation from retrospective data analyses on the topic.

The Fifth Biennial Workshop on Social Capital and Health is one of a series begun under the auspices of Richard Scheffler’s Petris Centre (University of California at Berkeley) and intended to foster international collaboration among researchers interested in improving the definition and measurement of social capital as well as the methodological rigor of studies of social capital and health. The first meeting took place in the fall of 2006 at the Petris Centre at Berkeley and subsequent biennial meetings, hosted by working group members, took place at IRDES (Institute for Research and Information in Health Economics) in Paris (2008), University of Oslo (2010), and University of Padova (2012).

The theme for the 2014 workshop is “Social Capital and Healthy Aging.” Recognizing that aging takes place across the life course, substantive questions in this vein include: How does social capital improve peoples’ health and well-being and how does this change over the life course? If people build up social capital during their healthy years, do they need to draw less on publicly provided health care in years of declining health and is their emotional and mental health (including cognitive functioning) better when they have a stock of social capital upon which to draw? Questions may also involve how communities can build up social capital (whether, for example, this is something which must be done by the individuals in the community or whether there is a role for joint action) and the implications of a community’s experience in accumulating social capital for the health of the members of that community, not just at a point in time but over their entire life course. Other questions can involve the continuum from intra-family informal caregiving, through inter-family based social support, to publicly-provided health care services (both in the community at large and in long-term care institutions, for example) and may involve what the optimum mix appears to be and, if that optimum requires people to invest deliberately in social capital, how they might be encouraged to do so.

Scientific committee:

  • Hope Corman (Rider University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, USA), Chair
  • Sherman Folland (Oakland University, USA)
  • Tor Iversen (University of Oslo, Norway)
  • Florence Jusot (Université Paris-Dauphine, France)
  • Eric Nauenberg (University of Toronto, Canada)
  • Lorenzo Rocco (University of Padova, Italy)

Keynote Speakers:

Nicole Anderson

Dr. Nicole Anderson is a Senior Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Toronto. She is also a Core Member of the Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery, and an adjunct scientist at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and is a registered clinical psychologist practicing neuropsychology. Her basic research is aimed at understanding processes underlying memory and attention and how these change with age and in conditions such as mild cognitive impairment and acquired brain injury. Her applied research focuses on a range of factors that mitigate age-related cognitive decline and dementia, including examining the behavioural and neural effects of directly retraining memory processes that decline with aging and in mild cognitive, and studying the behavioural and neural effects of exercise and dietary interventions in people with cardiovascular risk factors. Her Baycrest Research About Volunteering among Older adults (BRAVO) project explored the physical, cognitive, and social benefits of a year of volunteering among 103 seniors. Her talk will focus on how social capital protects physical and mental health as we age.



Richard M. Scheffler is a Distinguished Professor of Health Economics and Public Policy at the School of Public Health and the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He also holds the Chair in Healthcare Markets & Consumer Welfare endowed by the Office of the Attorney General for the State of California. Professor Scheffler is the founder of the Social Capital and Health Global Network. The first meeting for this was held in Berkeley, CA, in 2006, with subsequent biennial meetings in Paris, Ozlo, and Padova. Professor Scheffler’s research group developed the Petris Social Capital Index, which has been used in numerous international studies. His recent paper Social Capital and Health: A Concept whose Time has come was published in spring 2014 in the Eastern Economic Journal. Professor Scheffler is director of The Nicholas C. Petris Center on Health Care Markets and Consumer Welfare. He has been a Rockefeller and a Fulbright Scholar, and served as President of the International Health Economists Association 4th Congress in 2004. Professor Scheffler has published over 150 papers and edited and written ten books, including his most recent book, The ADHD Explosion: Myths, Medication, Money and Todays Push for Performance published by Oxford Press in March 2014, which was supported by a Robert Wood Johnson Investigator Award. He has conducted a recent review on Pay For Performance in Health for the World Health Organization and the OECD. He was awarded the Fulbright Scholar at Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile in in Santiago, Chile as well as the Chair of Excellence Award at the Carlos III University of Madrid in Madrid, Spain in 2012 through 2013. He is also Vice Chair of the Berkeley Forum for Improving California’s Healthcare Delivery System and the lead author of the Berkeley Forum Report.



Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M5S 2C6


Attendance is limited to workshop participants and a limited number of registered guests. For registration or other information, please contact with subject line “Social Capital Workshop”.