The origins of social capital
How is social capital generated and sustained? In Putnam's micro-oriented socialization perspective, the main source is face-to-face interaction between members of voluntary organizations. This has so far met little empirical support. Consequently, macro-oriented scholars have concluded that organizations are unimportant to social capital formation. We argue that voluntary organizations do play a pivotal role, not as socialization agents, but as institutions within which social capital is embedded. Using European Social Survey data, we analyse the antecedents of social capital both at the individual and regional level. We find that members are more trusting than non-members, but active members are no more trusting than passive members. Furthermore, regional effects are much stronger than individual effects. Regions with high social capital are characterized by broad participation patterns and visible, politically active organizations. Based on these findings, we put forward an alternative institutional account of how organizations create and sustain social capital. Strong and visible voluntary organizations demonstrate the utility and rationality of collective action and provide individuals with a democratic infrastructure, which can be activated when needed. We support this by showing that a positive perception of the democratic value of organizations is strongly related to trust, while personal, time-intensive involvement has no explanatory power.