Honors Thesis Spotlight: A Study of Corruption and Social Capital in Latin America

The predictability of social capital ebbs and flows, particularly when trust between constituents is lost or corrupted. Trust is crucial to maintaining social capital, which is defined as the extent to which trust in institutions facilitates collective action. Since the 1970s, social capital has steadily declined, and corruption might be to blame. This study investigates the ramifications of the Odebrecht Scandal on Latin America to assess its influence on the population, the effects of the scandal on social capital, and the duration of the consequences.

The author collects four categories of data to analyze   First, to fully understand how corruption can affect social capital in a short time frame, the author pulls data from the Americas Barometer survey in Latin America from the years 2004-2014. Questions focusing on perceptions of the government were analyzed, including those about trust in the armed forces. Secondly, the author consults data from Transparency International, which includes survey scores from the Americas Barometer and interviews. One data set includes all Latin American countries perceptions on corruption while the other excludes two outliers–Chile and Uruguay–for more accurate results.Thirdly, the author analyzes participants’ perceived level of corruption and their demographics to assess the correlation between social capital and individual background..Fourthly, a quasi-experimental case study was performed. The case study was based on a real-life situation regarding bribes between the Brazilian government and the country’s large corporations. Again using an OLS Regression the author compares social capital before and after the corruption scandal.

The completion of the steps previously mentioned make evident that social capital and corruption are closely related; however, a single corruption scandal does not affect social capital in the short term. As a result of the first step the author acquired the overall average for their evaluation of the time trends between 2014-2020 and found that the sum of the questions resulted in a score of 27.55 points. This implies that most participants replied with a neutral answer thus meaning that social capital is not great but not terrible within these countries. Factors not yet explored are predicted to be the catalyst for the negative correlation between social capital and corruption.

After examining the graphs and the given data it is shown that social capital and corruption in Latin America have a strong positive correlation except for outliers such as Uruguay and Chile. After orchestrating the individual analysis and taking into account each individual’s demographics the author concludes that social capital and corruption have a negative correlation which means when corruption increases social capital decreases. Finally, the results of the case study lead to the understanding that corruption scandals do not have a short-term effect on social capital. 

          In conclusion, swings in social capital are not solely motivated by corruption. While conducting the research, the author conducted they took into account the demographics of individuals. This led to the discovery that age, race, and gender can affect how one sees corruption and how it affects the ability for one to trust the government and citizens within their country. Despite this, further research still needs to be done to fully understand the effects of corruption on social capital in Latin America and the United States.

Mitchell Nuland graduated from the College of Social Sciences at Florida State University. This post is based on Mitchell’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern Camila Levy. You can learn more about Mitchell here. You can learn more about this project here.

Source for featured image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-browsing-smartphone-in-light-apartment-7241330/

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