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Building Your Social Capital
April 24, 2010
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

If a situation arose in which you absolutely had to double your income in the next 12 months, what would be your best strategy in accomplishing this? Twelve months is too short to get an additional degree. In one year, a promotion is unlikely to accomplish this drastic of a change. What if you began spending time on an on-going basis with people who make twice as much money as you do?

There is a specific type of networking that is most likely to lead to career or business transformation. This type of networking is bridging social capital. Social capital comes from who you know, not what you know. There are two main types of social capital: bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital constitutes close-knit ties among similar individuals or groups. These strong ties provide support within the bonded group, who often have similar resources, but often are barriers to relationships outside the close-knit group. Bridging social capital constitutes links between heterogeneous individuals or groups, often across socioeconomic lines. People attain higher status by becoming connected with others who have social resources such as power, status, wealth, or networks (Lin, 1990). The quantity of social capital a person possesses depends on the size of the network connections one can mobilize and the amount of resource each person in that network possesses. This is bridging social capital.
Why is creating bridging social capital so hard? Each socioeconomic strata has its own language and motivators. When you cross socioeconomic class lines, it is easy to break the rules without realizing it, and breaking these rules can be awkward. Here is an example: A young, fast track employee was invited to play golf with his CEO at the local country club. In the clubhouse, he conversed with a group of teens dressed for golf and commented that the teens were industrious to be working as caddies to pay for college. These were trust-fund children of affluent families who were playing golf for both fun and networking, and for whom paying for college was not a worry. When this comment was made, it was obvious to the rest of the group that the fast-track employee’s observation was inaccurate.
What are the most effective ways of building bridging social capital?
  • Marry well
  • Serve on Board of Directors
  • Attend charity events
  • Find mentors
  • Use your investigative skills to learn the different “rules” across class lines
Lin, Nan. 1990. “Social Resources and Social Mobility: A Structural Theory of Status Attainment.” Pp. 247-271 in Social Mobility and Social Structure, Ronald L. Breiger, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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