Bowling Alone

From Academic Kids

Robert D. Putnam is the author of the article Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital (1995) and the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000).

Summary of Robert D. Putnam's

Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital” (1995)

In his essay Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital (Journal of Democracy (, January 1995, Volume 6, Number 1) the author Robert D. Putnam surveys the decline of “social capital” in the United States of America since 1950. He is concerned about this decline because it is widely accepted that a strong democracy requires a strong and active civil engagement from its citizens.

Although the US has often been an archetype of social capital, as Putnam points out, the social capital of the country has been in decline since the 1950's. Putnam discusses ways in which Americans have disengaged from political involvement including decreased voter turnout, public meeting attendance, serving on committees and working with political parties. Putnam also cites Americans growing distrust in the government. Putnam accepts the possibility that the lack of trust could be attributed to "the long litany of political tragedies and scandals since the 1960's." (par. 13) but believes that this explanation is limited when viewing it along side other "trends in civic engagement of a wider sort" (par. 13).

Putnam notes the aggregate loss in membership of many civic organizations and points out that membership has not migrated to other organizations. To illustrate why the decline in Americans' membership in social organizations is problematic to democracy, Putnam uses bowling as an example. Although the number of people who bowl has increased in the last 20 years, the number of people that bowl in leagues has decreased. Since people bowl alone they do not participate in social interaction and civic discussions that might occur in a league environment.

Putnam then contrasts the countertrends of ever increasing mass-membership organizations, nonprofit organizations and support groups to the data of the General Social Survey. This data shows an aggregate decline in membership of traditional civic organizations proving his thesis that the social capital of the US is declined. He then asks the obvious question "Why is US social capital eroding?" (par. 35). He believes the "movement of women into the workforce" (par. 36), the "re-potting hypothesis" (par. 37) and other demographic changes have made little impact on the number of individuals engaging in civic associations but looks to the technological "individualizing" (par. 39) of our leisure time via television, internet and eventually "virtual reality helmets" (par.39).

Putnam suggests closer studies of which forms of associations can create the greatest social capital, how various aspects of technology, changes in social equality and public policy affect social capital. He closes by emphasizing the importance of discovering how the United States should seek to reverse the trend of social capital decay.

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