Thorsten Kneip
The Impact of Social Capital on Marital Stability


The impact of social networks on features of embedded couples, like, for instance, marital stability, has been discussed in sociology for about half a century. However, empirical findings are little cumulative and lack a theoretical integration. We present a framework for the analysis of couples, where their social embeddedness is conceptualized as social capital. Two aspects or dimensions of social capital are distinguished. On the one hand social capital can be seen as a property of a collective system of actors, which makes it a collective good, causing positive external effects (system capital). On the other hand it can be regarded as the pool of valuable resources or services controlled by others, that can be mobilized via social relations (relational capital). These two dimensions are roughly corresponding to the distinct views of social capital in literature. In our judgment, both aspects of social capital are important for marital stability. System capital facilitates co-operation between the spouses and hence fosters risky specific investments as an important precondition for a successful relationship. Relational capital, insofar as it is marital-specific, rises the costs of exiting the relationship, as it will lose its value if a disruption occurs. Structural factors that are assumed to constitute system capital are the closeness and homogeneity of networks, where orientations are shared and social control can be exercised. However, closeness has been captured in different ways: as personal network density, as joint network density or as network overlap, respectively. As a matter of fact these are analytically distinct concepts, though. The spouses individual networks can be dense due to high joint network density or clustering. For matters of empirical clarification, these concepts should be measured simultaneously. Moreover, a stabilizing effect of network overlap is theoretically ambiguous. It can as well be seen as an indicator for the marital-specificity of existing relational capital. As the marriage disrupts, formerly common friends might discontinue the relationship to one or both partners. We use event-history data on divorce (N=5020) to investigate the effect of closed networks on marital stability and test the assumption, that the overlap effect on marital stability is merely an effect of marital-specific relational capital. Non-specific relational capital, in contrast, is hypothesized to promote marital disruption. Further implications for the measurement of couples’ social capital and the data required are discussed.