Social Capital, Social Integration, and Suicidal Thoughts Among Korean Youths

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 11:50 AM
Room: 422
Distributed Paper
Harris KIM , Sociology, Ewha Womans University, Seoul, South Korea
Paul CHANG , Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Social Capital, Social Integration and Suicidal Thoughts among Korean Youths


The focus of this research is to examine some of the key factors that influence suicidal tendencies among youths in Korea. The teenage suicide rate in Korea has been one of the highest among all OECD nations, attracting the attention of scholars and policy makers alike. In this study, we examine in particular how and to what extent measures of social capital are associated with having suicidal thoughts, ceteris paribus. In a Durkheimian tradition, medical sociologists and social epidemiologists have increasingly relied on the concept of social capital in explaining individual and cross-national health inequality. Much of the extant scholarship focuses on adult populations in the context of Western developed economies. Based on the analysis of the Korean Youth Panel Study, a government-funded multi-year research project, we shift the analytical angle toward a vulnerable population that has not received much academic attention. A number of social capital indicators are conceptualized and measured in analyzing the roots of suicidal tendencies among Korean youths, specifically participation in voluntary organizations, friendship network size, frequency of interaction with close friends, quality of network members (number of “delinquent” friends), degree of intimacy with parents, and neighborhood trust/fear. Hierarchical linear modeling is used to examine the psychological health effects of social capital simultaneously at individual and contextual (neighborhood) levels. While controlling for a host of socioeconomic and demographic variables, we find that voluntary organizational membership, intimacy with parents (in terms of time spent together), frequency of interaction with close friends, and neighborhood fear are significantly related to having suicidal thoughts. We offer broad theoretical discussions and implications for the social capital literature based on our findings.