BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert D. Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone," what's the theory of your book?
Professor ROBERT PUTNAM, AUTHOR, "BOWLING ALONE: THE COLLAPSE & REVIVAL OF AMERICAN COMMUNITY": Well, my theory is that connecting with other people has great value for us personally and for our communities. I use the term social capital in the book to refer to the fact that social networks have value. They have value for the people who are in them. Most people in America, for example, get their jobs through them. You know, I did--I did and most people do. I don't mean that in a nepotistic sense. I just mean we--we learn about jobs through--through social connections. And there are many other values to us personally from our social connections. There are positive effects on health from connecting with other people.
But social connections also have value for people who are not directly in the networks. If you live in a neighborhood where people know one another, for example, as I do, that holds down the crime rate in the neighborhood, even for people who don't themselves go to the barbecues in the neighborhood; that is, the general effects of social capital, of social connections spread across the community. They lower crime rates, they improve performance in schools, they have many positive effects. And so the theory of the book is that social capital, social connections, community connections have value for people.
America has historically been blessed with very high levels of social capital compared to most other countries. We do connect with one another and that's been an important part of our advantage historically as a country. And for most of the last century or so that was more and more true of Americans. We were year by year connecting more with one another. We were going to meetings more, belonging to PTA, belong to civic groups, having friends over to the house, giving more. Our generosity was rising year by year in terms of the fraction of our income that we gave to other people. And then somehow mysteriously about, oh, 25 or 30 years ago all of those trends turned downward and be--we began doing all of those things less, connecting less with other people, and so this book is about, first of all, the fact, demonstrating that that's a quite pervasive trend across American society and then trying to explore why it happened and--and what difference it makes and--and what we might do about it.
LAMB: "Bowling Alone." Where did you get the title?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, I was doing some work on the question of membership in various organizations, the fact that people were no longer belonging to the, you know, Elks Club or the Rotary Club or the League of Women Voters. And I happened to run into a friend who owned a bowling alley. And he said, `Gosh, Bob, you don't know it but you've stumbled on to the major economic problems facing my industry, because although more Americans are bowling than ever before--bowling is up in America--bowling leagues, bowling in teams is off by about 60 percent.' And the money it turns out, in bowling, is in the beer and pretzels. Because when you buy--when you dr--when you--when you bowl in a league, you drink four times as mer--much beer and you eat four times as many pretzels. And the money in bowling is in the beer and pretzels, not in the balls and shoes, so they were in this funny situation in which he was aware of the fact that people were bowling more but not bowling in leagues.
And so I thought that captured the fact that we were--we were not connecting with our friends and neighbors as much as we--as we once did. And I wanted to get across the idea that it wasn't just in kind of do-gooding ways that we were not connecting. It wasn't that we were just no longer voting, although voting is down, as everybody knows. It wasn't just that we were, you know, no longer belonging to some kind of organization that does good. But it--it was also that we were not even connecting in informal ways with our friends and neighbors. That's why I used the title.
LAMB: There was a time where you panicked...
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah.
LAMB: ...because you had a data problem. What was that?
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah. Well, as--in writing this book, as--as in writing other books that I've done, I followed a plan of writing an article in which you sort of lay out where you think you're going and trying to listen to what people have to say about it. Usually in the past, since I'm an academic, most of the books that I've written I got responses from two or three people in response to that initial article. This time the--the article Bowling Alone happened to get a lot more attention and so I got letters and comments and so on from thousands of people and...
LAMB: What year was that? The article?
Prof. PUTNAM: 1995. 1995.
LAMB: In what magazine?
Prof. PUTNAM: A little journal called the Journal of Democracy, which I think had a total paid circulation of about five people. It was really very obscure. But the--but the journal--but the article happened to catch people's attention. I don't know quite why. I have some suspicions about that, but at any rate it--it caught a lot of attention and got a lot of positive attention. And--and a lot of people said, `Gee, but, wait a minute, if you just took a broader view, maybe things wouldn't look so bleak. Maybe--maybe the things you looked at are declining but other things are not declining.'
And so I spent some time trying to figure out whether that was true, whether there actually--whether maybe I overstated the case in that initial article. And early in that process, I discovered that one of the data sets that I had been using had a flaw--a technical flaw in it, not actually one that I had put in it, but it meant that there had been an undercounting of group memberships. And so al--when you made a correction for that, although the trends were still down, they weren't down nearly as much. And so that was a point at which I thought, `Well, maybe, I really did get carried away with this original argument in--and maybe the trends really aren't down as much as I thought.'
LAMB: So how was that d--how did you correct it?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, we were--easy to correct that particular data. But the main--the larger--just by--by, you know, doing the--doing the numbers in the--in the proper way, they had forgotten to count PTA memberships or something in their--in their total count. What--the more important thing that happened was that we discovered after the original article--and remember, it--it was--it was intended to be a kind of preliminary thing--we discovered two massive new archives of survey evidence whose existence I hadn't even known of before. Indeed, nobody had known of the--these two massive archives based on surveys with large numbers of Americans every month in one case, every year in the other case, since 1975; year after year asking people about how often they went to meetings and how often they went to club meetings and how often they volunteered and how often they had friends over to the house and went on picnics and so on.
And until that point we had no idea that anybody was even gathering data on picnics. Who knew whether picnics were up or down. But--but once we had this really amazingly rich evidence, it provides a deep, kind of like a moving picture of how Americans' social habits have changed over the course of the--of the last quarter century. And I was shocked when I discovered that evidence, because what it turned out was when you took into account--people had said, you know, `If you--if you take into account a broader range of things, it'll turn out things are not so bleak.' And I took into account a--a broader range of things which not--turned out things were even bleaker. Then I thought it was not just that we were stopping going to meetings. We still claimed to be members of groups, but we stopped going to meetings. So we were--we were not showing up. We were not--and we weren't going to--we weren't involved in other sorts of community activities. We weren't signing petitions as much as we used to. But also we weren't having friends over to the house, we weren't going on picnics, we weren't having dinner parties, we weren't going to bar--going to bars was down by about 35 to 40 percent. We were not even having dinner with our own families, this fuller evidence suggested.
So it turned out once we had the full range of evidence--and that's what's reported in this book--that the original article was mistaken only in that it understated the full range in depth and dread--and--and breadth of these--these kinds of declines in our connectedness.
LAMB: Where is your neighborhood?
Prof. PUTNAM: I live--well, actually, I'm fortunate. I--we live in two places. I live in Lexington, Massachusetts. I teach at Harvard and I live in Lexington, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. It's a--it's a nice little neighborhood where people do actually have barbecues and so on. And then we have a--a h--little house up in New Hampshire where I go when I want to write, and so I--we have friends and--and local connections there, too.
LAMB: So what's the difference between Frost Pond, New Hampshire, and Lexington?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, that's a very, very good question, Brian. In--in the Boston metropolitan area, there are--generally speaking, people are less connected with one another, with their neighbors, than they are in a small town. That's true and--specifically of--of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, where Frost Pond is located. People in--in Jaffrey all the time know each other by going in to, you know, the grocery store to get potato salad. They know what kind of potato salad I want. If I--if I go into the grocery store in--in Lexington, you know, no one would ever remember who I am. So there are big differences in the level of social connection. People are more likely to vote in--in the small town in New Hampshire than they are in--in--in the Boston area. They're--they're more likely to volunteer. They're more likely to shovel one another's sn--you know, walks or whatever. So there are differences that mirror, in fact, differences nationwide between smaller places and--and--and bigger urban areas.
But the striking thing is if you compare Jaffrey, New Hampshire, 2000--well, if you compare Jaffrey, New Hampshire, in the year 2000 with Boston in the year 2000, Jaffrey has a lot more social connections. But if you compare Jaffrey, New Hampshire, 2000 of Jaffrey 1960, which I can do--which you can do just by talking to old-timers or--or looking at the newspapers or whatever, there's been a big decline there, too. In other words, what I'm trying to say is these--these trends downward in social connections, whether we're talking about clubs or just having friends over, are true everywhere across America. This is really an equal opportunity affliction that's--that's struck our society.
LAMB: Harvard, you teach what?
Prof. PUTNAM: I teach public policy at the Kennedy School of Government.
LAMB: How long have you done that?
Prof. PUTNAM: I've been about 20 years. Before that I was at the University of Michigan for a little more than 10 years. And--and there, too, I've got--I've taught international relations and--and now American politics.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Prof. PUTNAM: I grew up in a little town in Ohio--a little town called Port Clinton, Ohio. Population then and now 5,000.
LAMB: What was the family like?
Prof. PUTNAM: My family?
Prof. PUTNAM: My dad was a--a building contractor. My mom was a schoolteacher. We'd come there after the war. My dad had been injured during the war and he was recovering. And I had a--a younger sister--still do. And it was a--it was a pleasant place to grow up and a pleasant time to grow up. And, I mean, I--it was a much less, you know, cosmopolitan place than Harvard or--or the East Coast in general. But I was really blessed in growing up in a place that had a lot of social capital. And, frankly, I've--I've spent some time learning in writing this book about the degree to which what I'm indulging in here is simple nostalgia for kind of a--of a--of a past that one wouldn't necessarily today want to re-create. I haven't been back to Port Clinton for a long time--until I--until just recently I went back there. And it turns out it still is, in fact, unusually civic. People do--do connect with one another.
LAMB: You do mention that, in spite of the fact that you find that people are bowling alone in your own environment, you've got a tremendous amount of support for this book.
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah. Sure did.
LAMB: And your own daughters worked with you for 10 years.
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Tell us about Laura and what--what role she played in this.
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, it's interesting that you ask that question. Laura is a professional woman. She'd just gotten her PhD at the University of Michigan in Latin American history. She's married to a Costa Rican and now lives in Costa Rica and she's got three kids. I'm extremely proud of her 'cause she's, you know, one of these kind of super moms who's raising a family and taking care of her mother-in-law there in Costa Rica and also writing. And we are very close, personally; have been for a long time. She's been the person who's been my most severe critic, 'cause we know each other well enough that she feels free to say things that people might not say, about, `Gee, that's a dumb way of phrasing that idea or--or I think I would toss out that chapter entirely.'
And we--at the time I was writing this book, she was also doing her dissertation and we both happen to be night people. We work--write late at night, so lots of the time we'd--we'd spend, in the middle of the night, me at Frost Pond and she in--in Costa Rica and exchanging e-mails about how--how we were making--how well we were making out that evening.
LAMB: Does she feel the same way you do about the--the bowling alone concept?
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah. She does, actually. Absolutely. She's been very helpful, very helpful, in fact, in getting me to see the trend as well through the eyes of someone of a different generation. Because there are such big generational differences in the degree to which Americans are connected with their communities, and in the ways that--that they connect with their communities, there's a risk that someone in, you know, late middle age, my age, may just be blind to new forms of social connection that were--that are emerging among younger folks. And I don't want to hold her responsible for any remaining blind spots, but we did talk a lot, actually as I was writing it, about, `Well, how would this problem look if it--if it were--if the book were being written--being written by a--a 20-something or a 30-something rather than a 50-something?'
LAMB: You spent a lot of time on--not a lot of time, you spent a chapter on television...
Prof. PUTNAM: Right.
LAMB: ...and media and the water cooler effect. What's that?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, the water cooler effect. People say that if--you know, we all watched "Survivor," we can get together around the water cooler and that's--that's almost as good connections as--as if we, you know, were--were connecting over the back fence. But I don't find any evidence that that's true, actually. I think that enter--entertainment television, especially commercial entertainment television, is really lethal for civic connection. I always have to phrase the point carefully when I'm talking about television to say commercial entertainment television, because I know from news statistics, the watchers of C-SPAN and--and--and some of the other news programs are among the--the most civic people in the America. They're also on average older than the rest of Americans. And there--that's--there--they represent really civic America. But, unfortunately, that's not the--most people in America don't watch those sorts of programs. Most of them watch, you know, "Survivor" or "Friends" or--or any one of a number of other television shows. And those--watching those shows is very negatively correlated with all forms of social connection, not just the--you know, going to meetings but even just spending time with your family.
LAMB: There's one statistic--I may not be perfectly accurate on this, but sixth graders with television sets in their bedroom went from something like 6 percent in 1977 up to 70 percent in 1997 or whatever.
Prof. PUTNAM: Correct. Yup.
LAMB: What does that say?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, I--I thi--what it says is absolutely that we're watching television, especially our kids, are watching more television alone. I actually had not any idea that that trend had occurred because our--my kids are a little--a little older than that and so we--that--that happened after we had young kids. And--and I don't--don't know that we would have been immune to it if our kids had been that young. I don't want to claim status here as somehow a saint with respect to television watching. But what it--what the trend means is that more and more of the time of our kids is spent alone watching television without anybody else present or certainly without any adult present. I--I think that--that study that--that--that I cite in the book comes from the--a Kaiser Family Foundation study which also, I think, shows that 95 percent of the time that kids are watching television, their not--their parents are not present.
And that ki--and, by the way, it's just not ki--it's not just kids. It's adults, too, who are mostly watching television alone. But with respect to our kids, that can't be a good--that can't be good actually. And there's another interesting finding recently actually. Just this spring, the YMCA released a survey in which they had asked kids, ad--adolescents, `Would you like to spend more time with your parents or the same amount of time you do spend with your parents or less time with your parents?' Adolescents, remember. These are kids, Brian, who don't--you know, adolescents in general are not wanting to spend a lot of time hanging out with--with Mom and Dad. But, in fact, two-thirds of American adolescents say they'd like to spend more time with their parents. What that says to me is that, for a variety of reasons, we've disengaged from our kids. We're using televisions as--increasingly a kind of cheap day care. And--and that's, I'm afraid, laying the groundwork for yet more civic disengagement down the road.
LAMB: How much did Vietnam and/or Watergate have to do with this change over the last 25 years?
Prof. PUTNAM: That's--that's a good question. It's--it's not an easy question to answer because it certainly is clear that the generation of people who--who were exposed to that and only to that--that is, who came of age during the midst of Vietnam and Watergate and so on--are less civically engaged. And I can believe that people, say, have stopped voting because they're upset about, you know, Watergate or Vietnam or Monica or whatever. But remember, the picture that's being described here is much broader than that. It's not just that we're dropping out of politics. We're dropping out of connections of all sort. And it's harder for me to believe that people have stopped going on picnics because they're upset about Monica or they're--they've stopped, you know, having friends over to the house 'cause they're still mad at Dick Nixon. I just--that--that kind of connection doesn't seem to me very plausible. And that's why I think that probably in the big patterns of social disconnection that I'm talking about here, these purely political causes, the political aliena--alienation that did certainly arise out of Vietnam and Watergate probably isn't the main explanation for the broader trend, I think.
LAMB: Are we happier or un--more unhappy than we used to be, in your opinion?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, generally speaking, we're--we're less--a little less happy than we used to be, despite the fact that our income has doubled or tripled over the last 30 years. We're less--a little less happy.
LAMB: How do we know that?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, because in--there are several different reas--ways. One is we've been a--you know, pollsters have been asking people about the state of their happiness for--well, for the last 50 years actually. There's a more--and--and there are other ways, too. For example, depression, clinically measured depression. I don't mean just feeling a little blue in the morning or I don't mean going to the shrink more but clinically measured depression has--has increased tenfold over this period. I don't know how many of your viewers will know that we're in the midst of a--of a depression epidemic nationwide. And, as I say, this is not just that we've become more sensitive to that problem. It's that the real symptoms have--have increased a lot.
But there's another subtlety here which is even more telling. It used to be that as you got older, you got less happy. There--there was a--there was a negative correlation between age and happiness; that you--young people were happier and, you know, they had more--their whole life in fronts of them and so on. And gradually over the course of the last 30 or 40 years that correlation between age and happiness has reversed be--so that now young people are much less happy than older people. And the reason is, I think, tied up to what we're talking about here. The same thing is true with the depression, by the way. The depression epidemic has hit distinctively younger generations, not older generations, and it's the younger generations also who "Bowling Alone" shows have been disengaging.
So I don't want to be practicing psychiatry here without a license, but I do think that the circumstantial evidence is that a whole generation of people, beginning with the boomers and then increasing with the X-ers, have become less connected with one another and less connected with their communities. And they at the same time have become less happy. There's been a substantial increase in depression, and I have to say also a substantial increase in--in--in suicide rates in that generation where suicide rates among the--the connected generation, the old--the long, civic generation have been--been quite low. So I think we are less happy is the short answer to the question.
LAMB: Go back to something you said earlier about how this all got started. You wrote the original article again in what magazine?
Prof. PUTNAM: The Journal of Democracy.
LAMB: Whose is that?
Prof. PUTNAM: It's an academic article--academic journal published by the National Endowment for Democracy. It's--it's a journal namely for academics about--about, you know, how democracy works.
LAMB: And you said you had a theory about how that moved on from there.
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, yeah. I've written a lot of books and a lot of articles in my life as an academic. And some of them, I think, were maybe even better than the Bowling Alone article, but that got about a million tons more publicity. I mean, I got, you know, invited on pe--you know, shown on People magazine and Bill Clinton invited me to Camp David. And there was just a lot of hubbub about--about the article Bowling Alone, much more than, as I say, for things that were, I think, equally valuable intellectually. And I think the reason was that I purely, blindly stumbled into articulating a trend in our lives that lots of ordinary Americans knew is true in their life, that they weren't--you know, their mom had belonged to Hadassah and they didn't or that their dad had--had gone to the Moose Club or the Rotary Club and they didn't do anything equivalent or that they, you know, remember that they used to--their parents used to play bridge every week and--with friends and have friends over to the house and they didn't.
And everybody kind of knew in a personal way that they were less connected with their community than their parents had been and felt a little uneasy about it, you know, felt they knew probably why, because they were busier or whatever, but they--they felt a little uneasy about it. And they--but they--it was defined not as a public issue but as a private issue. And then along comes this Harvard professor who says, `Actually, no, it's not just you, it's all of us.' And I think that the reason that the--the--the original article got so much attention was that it seemed to put a label to something that all of us felt in our lives but didn't realize that everybody else was feeling. And that's the only reason I can make of the fact that it got so--so much more attention than I--than I had ever dreamed of.
LAMB: When were you called to Camp David?
Prof. PUTNAM: Essentially right after that--that article came out. The president had a number of--of academics to come to Camp David to talk with him about--this was the--this was January of 1995. And it was shortly after the article had appeared. And he was thinking about what he--what he would say in the State of the Union message that year. And so he was talking with me and some other people about...
LAMB: What did you learn from that experience?
Prof PUTNAM: Well, I--I learned--of course, it was a treat to be--to be invited. And I--and I very much enjoyed meeting the president and--and--and the vice president. And they're smart people. They're--I learned that they--they'd do just fine in a Harvard seminar. And I also learned that it's complicated to think about--that the movement from describing these issues in a purely academic way--which is frankly what I had done before; I was--had entirely been an academic--is different from the problem of figuring out what would you do to fix it. And what I was increasingly confronted with--not--I don't just mean at Camp David, but that was an example of it. As there came to be more discussion about the so-called bowling alone phenomenon and--was, `OK, if you're so smart to descr--to diagnose this problem, how do we fix it?' And so I spent actually much of the last five years in what is a somewhat different task than the pri--pri--than the problem of diagnosis, which is to--what can we do to change our lives or our community or our public policies or whatever to enable us to reweave the fabric?
LAMB: Let me go back to the water cooler thing for a moment because this network is about 21 years old. And for 20 years we've had call-in programs where people every day for three hours communicate among the group that watches. You can go from this network to any other--Dr. Laura or...
Prof. PUTNAM: Sure.
LAMB: ...Rush Limbaugh or any number of national call-in programs which weren't there, haven't been there but 22 years or something like that.
Prof. PUTNAM: Right.
LAMB: Larry King started it all in 1978 on a national basis. That's not discussed in your book and I wonder--that's a community. We all--we have all formed communities where people are involved, albeit in--in many cases, alone.
Prof. PUTNAM: Sure.
LAMB: But they're talking to a community. What im--wh--what impact has that had on this, you know--and is the water cooler thing better for us as a country or worse for us, that we all watch the same thing and talk about it the next day?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, if we actually did talk about it with people we--we--in a--in a face-to-face setting in which we really know one another, it would be fine. I don't see anything--there's anyt--you know, nothing bad about talking about "Survivor" anymore than talking about the--you know, the local bond issue or whatever else you talk about with friends. I do think the face-to-face connections are really important; that is, I don't doubt for a second that--I know this from my own experience that your viewers feel that they have a kind of a personal connection with you and I think the same thing is true for any of the hosts of these--of these programs.
And in a certain sense, they feel part of a larger community, a--a community of people who identify themselves with, you know, watching Larry King or Rush Limbaugh or whatever. But the--the horizontal ties among the member of that aud--among the members of those audience are much weaker than the--than the horizontal ties that would be true among people over a back fence. And I--so I do actually look at the--I did look, in the course of doing this work, at the--the question of--of talk radio and--and talk television. And--and I do think that, for some people, those sorts of--of being an audience of that sort does give them a sense of belonging to something wider than themselves.
But the other watchers are--the other people--the other viewers are not going to bring you chicken soup if you get--if you get sick; that is, there are certain kinds of things that only real face-to-face connections can do. Being in a community of identity--that is, a community that--that shares basically only the fact that they think of themselves in the same way--the community of Adida--Adidas shoes wearers, for example. People--I mean, now communities--the term community is used in marketing all the time--the--you know, the Buick community or something, being--is very different from a community of interaction, in which you actually do connect with other people in it. And so I don't want to be dismissive of communities of identity, pure--pure identity. But I don't think it solves the same--serves the same kind of functions, either the functions for our own physical health or the--or the social functions in our community. Your--you know, the--I don't know of any evidence at all that--where people are more likely to watch Rush Limbaugh, their schools work better. I know of a lot of evidence that where people are involved in community organizations, the schools work better. So the kind of social capital that I'm talking about I think does require more than you merely--more than you merely be in an audience. It requires really connecting.
LAMB: Would the country be better off with a strong, active federal government or strong local governments in the environment that you think is the best for us as citizens?
Prof. PUTNAM: I try to avoid, in the book, and in my own thinking about this, any simple dichotomy, would we want a top-down solution or a bottom-up solution, because I think we want both top-down and bottom-up solutions. I do think that the evidence is that smaller is better for connecting. Smaller towns or smaller schools, for example, small--because you feel a greater sense of efficacy if you're--if you're close up to--if--if you can actually, you know, connect with other real people, and it--and that's--that's an argument, I think, for--for a more decentralized form of--of--of connection.
On the other hand, there are people examples in our history in which a crucial role has been played by the federal government in building community. Let me give a--a couple of specific examples. Many people in America don't know that the 4-H Club, which, for a certain generation of us, the 4-H Club was, you know, the place where you learned--learned to connect with other people, especially in rural communities. The 4-H Club is a government program run out of a--a government bureaucracy, run out of the Department of Agriculture. And it was created by people in the--around the--in the progressive era by people who thought that if the government--it was the government's responsibility to help people connect with other people in their communities.
And the--the--the whole--many of the forms of social connection in our rural areas are--the grange and so on, are the creation of county agents. County agents--I mean, you know, always thought that county agents were people who told my mom how to can goods or--or taught farmers how to--what kind of--what kind of plants to grow, but county agents were paid community organizers, paid by the government, bureaucrats. To phrase--I'm trying to phrase it that way not to castigate them, but to say, `Look, deep in our own history, as a country, are many examples in which the government played an important role in building the preconditions for--for a community.'
And that--take another example. The GI Bill after World War II, I think it was an important factor in giving that generation--basically, the GIs out of World War II--a sense of civic involvement, a sense of reciprocity. The government--you know, they had given a lot to the country, in--in terms of their service in war. The country gave back to them in terms of the--this opportunity that most of them had never imagined they would have to go to--to go to college. And they, in turn, over the rest of their lives, gave back.
That long--it--it appears very clearly in the book this long civic generation, that World War II civic generation, all their lives had been more involved in the community: giving more, trusting more, schmoozing more, joining more. And I think you can't get around the fact that that must have been in part because of policies of the federal government. So I want to say, `both/and.' Both small, local, grassroots initiatives are important, but also there are important federal policies that I think we need to--to recognize in the past and to--and perhaps to push for in the future.
LAMB: If you had to put everybody that worked on your book on the statistical side and--and all the research in a room, how many people would be in there?
Prof. PUTNAM: Over the years, probably nearly 100 people. I mean, they didn't all work at the same time, because I was mostly using graduate students, and it happened over a--over a five- or six-year period that I was working with people. So sometimes we had--sometimes a team got up to, oh, eight or 10 people. And--and sometimes it was less than that. But there are a lot of them.
LAMB: What were they doing?
Prof. PUTNAM: Part of it was gathering statistics. I mean, we looked really hard to try to find data on membership in organizations and trends in--in--all sorts of connect--connect--forms of, you know, connection. We wanted to try to find out what were--what were the trends in restaurant eating and so on. And it turns out that was hard to track down a lot of those things. And partly they were reviewing for me, helping me look at the very wide range of--of research, of other people's research, that we were drawing on. Because much of that book is really based on summarizing a lot of other people's research.
For examples, to take the issue that you talked about before, talk radio, we had--we had--I had one--one of my graduate students who spent the better part of a semester looking at all the research that's been done on talk radio, who watches, who talks, who calls in, has it changed over time, are people who call in to talk radio more likely to be involved in their community? Apart from talk radio, are they less likely to be involved? So--and doing the same thing in--in, you know, dozens of other areas. We wanted to--we wanted to look in some detail, for example, at the medical literature on the health of exosocial--social connections. And we looked a lot--spent a lot of time looking at history. So I had researchers who went back and--and--and explored the pa--trends in--in social connection over the last 200--200 years in--in Syracuse and Poughkeepsie and so on.
LAMB: How do you get students to do this?
Prof. PUTNAM: Partly--you pay them. I mean, it's--it's a--employment, and--and a way that they're working their way through school. And--but ma--partly because they enjoyed working on a project which was actually exciting. It really is--this is a--really neat stuff. We had the feeling that we were kind of exploring a big problem. Most of the time academics, including me, work on, you know, pretty small problems, narrowly defined so we can get the--get the facts quite straight in a really narrow little area. And I had all my life done that kind of work. And I will in the pa--in the future do that kind of work.
But this was a big, expansive problem, and it was one that you could--when kids went home over Thanksgiving they could tell their--their aunts and uncles what they were working on and they'd recognize it as--their aunts and uncles would recognize it as a--as a serious problem. So there was a certain amount of excitement in being involved and doing hard, careful research on a big topic.
LAMB: In the back you go into great explanation of how you put this all together. But the thing that was interesting, and I wanted to ask you about, was the number of well-known endowments and institutes that participated in this in one form or another. I guess helped underwrite it?
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah, it--mostly the foundations that are listed there in the back--they were very, very helpful--were not actually underwriting the research for this book. They were underwriting a set of other activities that we've been doing at the same time. Because at the same time that we'd been carrying on this research, at the encouragement of--of many of these foundations, I had been working with a group of leaders across the country--that is not just academics, but preachers and businessmen, businessmen and women and--and community organizers and union people and so on. We had been meeting in a--in a group called the Saguaro Seminar to try to figure out what are some possible solutions to this problem. And that group has met roughly every three or four months over the last three or four years. We've looked at issues like the workplace--What do we need to do in the workplace? Or--or religion--How--how can religion help to reinvigorate American democracy? Or schools--What can the school--what role can schools play in--in trying to fix this problem?
LAMB: What is the status of religion?
Prof. PUTNAM: Religion is--as a whole, religious participation is down, as everything else is, in terms of social connections. Down about, oh, 25 percent over the last--that is, take going to church, for example, is down by about 25 percent over the last 25, 30--30 years. But, obviously, there are some parts of the religious spectrum that have had ena--enormous growth during this period. And there are others that have had substantial falls. I mean, the mainline Protestant churches, for example, and--and--and--and attendance at Mass among Catholics, has dropped off a lot. But that's t--partially offset by the growth and participation in evangelical communities. And what we were talking about in the Saguaro Seminar was, well, OK, su--suppose we were to have a--another one of these what people call great awakenings, which we've had periodically in American history, where people began--began to be more engaged and interested in religion. How would that--how could that contribute to a broader sense of--of civic revitalization?
LAMB: I just want to name some of these organizations: Aspen Institute, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Lilly Endowment, Trilateral Commission, Pew Charitable trusts, The Norman Foundation, the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. These are--support the--is it called--is it pronounced Saguaro?
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah.
LAMB: What's that mean, by the way?
Prof. PUTNAM: Saguaro is a cactus out in--out in the West. We use it as a metaphor for social capital. Because the saguaro--it's one of these big cactuses with the big arms, you know. Saguaro cactus, as it turns out, grow invisibly, almost underground, for the first 20 or 30 years before they shoot up these big stalks, which then turn out to be hosts for many different kinds of communities--for birds and insects and--and people. So we thought that was a kind of a metaphor for social capital--it takes a long time to develop, and then it serves lots of unexpected purposes.
LAMB: Carnegie, the Li--the Lila--Is that the way you pronounce it?--Wallace Reader's Digest Foundation.
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah, Lila. Yeah.
LAMB: Why are all of these groups--and, by the way, a lot of our viewers--I don't know what the number is, but some of our viewers, when they hear Trilateral Commission, immediately think conspiracy.
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah.
LAMB: Why would the Trilateral Commission be involved?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, the Trilateral Commission, frankly, was involved only because I'm a member of the Trilateral Commission. And--and--and part of this work on democracy was--I was doing is--o--on--looking at how these same problems occur elsewhere. Yeah, I know that there's a--there's a view out there--a--frankly, it's a quite silly view, that--that the Trilateral Commission somehow runs everything. But it was a--it played a very minor role, frankly, in this.
LAMB: Well--well, let me stop and ask you, what is the Trilateral Commission and why is it people are afraid of it?
Prof. PUTNAM: The Trilateral Commission is just a group of--of businessmen and--and public officials and academics from--it's called `trilateral' because it has the three--it comes from the three devanced--advanced developing parts--developed parts of the world, North America and Europe and--and Japan. It's been--I mean, I'm a member of it. But I'm not, by no means, a--a--a--a spokesman for it or anything. And...
LAMB: What's the goal?
Prof. PUTNAM: And--well, you should talk to them about it, Brian. Actually, I'm just a--I--I mean, it's--doesn't make--anything to do with the book, frankly. But it's...
LAMB: No, but what--the reason I ask this is is what--what are the goal of all these--what--what do they want to learn out of this? What's--what do you sense that--when you meet with all of these people from these different foundations, what do they want?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, I think they want the same thing that other--of ordinary Americans. They're a very diverse group out there, I mean, as you--as you may know, but--from looking at the--at the list, as you read it off. There's some conservative groups there, and some liberal groups, and some--you know, all sorts of different groups are in that list. And the...
LAMB: So what is your sense of why somebody, I mean, begins to underwrite something like this?
Prof. PUTNAM: I--I m--because they--they have--in different ways each of those organizations has an interest in trying to fix some social problem in America that they think would be improved, whether that's child care or--or education or economics--that they think would be improved, correctly, if we could connect more. And I think they--you know, there are lots of folks on that list who don't agree with one another, but they do all share the view that America would be a better place to live in if we connected a little bit--bit more, that we would have lower infant mortality rates. Some of the groups in that list, for example, are interested in--in teen pregnancy, and infant mortality, and--and the way kids are.
That we--and some of the groups in there are interested in--in education. And I think test scores would be higher, which they would be, if American parents were more connected with their kids. And some groups in there are worried about American competitiveness. They think the American economy would be stronger. And some groups in there are worried about American health, public--the health and the psychological health. And they think Americans would--Americans would be healthier if we connected a little bit more. So I think people have a very--just as ordinary citizens, ordinary folks have a very different set of interests in this.
LAMB: In--in--near the end of the book, Chapter 24, toward an agenda
for social capitalists, I'm going to read your points and then the--have you expand on them.
Prof. PUTNAM: Sure.
LAMB: `Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 the level of civic engagement among Americans then coming of age in all parts of our society will match that of our--of their grandparents when they were that same age and at the same time bridging social capital will substantially--will be substantially greater than it was in their grandparents' era.' How do you do that?
Prof. PUTNAM: Gosh, I think there's not any single solution. And, as I say, in the--in the chapter that you're reading, I think the purpose of my efforts in that last chapter to try to provoke people to suggestions that may come from others. But let me be more specific about my own ideas. I think, with respect to schooling, we know some things that would work. We want to increase our--the next generation's interest in public involvement, in--in public affairs. We know things that would work. We know that smaller is better.
We know school--in small schools people are--have an opportunity to take part in community activities and they--and they develop civic habits. We know that--we know that extracurricular activities work. We know that band and football and chorus and debate and so on, all those extracurricular--curricular activities give people skills that they carry with them their whole lives. And we know that what predicts in adulthood who's going to be involved as an adult in--in--in community life is who's been--you know, played left tackle or played trombone or--or--or--or played King Lear or something. So we know that that works.
And we know it was, therefore, really dumb, as American--as many American school districts did, to cut funding for extracurriculars as a frill during the--during the 1970s and '80s and '90s because it was not a civic frill. We know that public service and community le--community service works in the sense that kids who get involved as young people in school in community service develop habits of mind and values that stick with them. So we know some things that would work in the current--in the area of schools, that would make it likely that now another generation would be more involved and we can reverse this decline.
LAMB: Second, you say, `Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 America's workplace would be substantially more family friendly, and community congenial so that American workers would be enabled to replenish our stocks of social capital both within and outside the workplace.'
Prof. PUTNAM: Let me go--go back for just a second to give a little historical context. America, between 1865 and 1900, underwent the industrial revolution. Basically, a third of Americans moved from fields to factories, is where they--is--in terms of their place of employment. Then we spent some time adjusting our labor law to the fact that we were mostly working in factories now and no longer working in fields. Take child labor, for example. Women mostly worked in fields. Child labor meant, you know, Sarah picking beans in the back 40 with Mom. And that didn't seem like such a bad idea. But when we were mostly working in factories, after that transformation, child labor meant Sarah working in--you know, sewing shirts in a sweatshop. And that wasn't so good.
And so we had a series of kind of clicks in which we saw the world differently as a result of that change in the structure of the workplace. Now fast forward. In our adult lifetime, over the course of the last generation, we have all been through a bigger change in the character of work in America as more than a third of the American work force has moved from the kitchen to the office. And yet with respect to the consequences of that transformation, the movement of women into the paid labor force, we're still--with respect to the consequences of that for the rest of our lives, we're still pre-click in the sense that we haven't yet seen that now that most adults are working outside the home, and most of us don't have a "housewife" at home to take care of, you know, kids and so on.
And I'm not--for a moment would I want to return to that--those days in which--my daughter, as we talked about before, is a--is a professional woman. And I'm very proud of her. So I don't want--I don't want her to stop her professional career. But the workplace has not yet adjusted to the fact that most of us have two--two adults working outside the home. So that means with--what we need over the course of the next decade or so are some quite radical changes in the structure of the workplace to enable us.
We--we talk about this as if it were your problem or my problem--`Who's going to pick up the kids at sch--tonight?' But it's not. It's how is--how are America--how are Amer--is America going to educate its k--kids when most adults are working outside the home? That's a collective problem. We need to have a collective discussion about it. It may or may not, but probably will, require some government action. Just as it required government action to outlaw child labor. So I think it means radically increase--radical increases in, for example, the Family & Medical Leave Act, which allows you to take time off for sick kids. Well, sick kids are an important obligation. But it's not the only family obligation. And you should--the burden of proof, I think, ought to be on the employer to say why you have to work from 9 to 5 as opposed to having much more--a flexibility in your work life to enable you to--to fit your family and community obligations in--into the rest of your life. So that's--I'm--I'm giving some general outlines here of some kinds of radical changes that I think would enable Americans to--to be more civically engaged.
LAMB: Your third point: `Let us act to ensure that by 2010 Americans will spend less time traveling and more time connecting with our neighbors than we do today, that we will live in more integrated and pedestrian-friendly areas, and that the design of our communities and the availability of public space will encourage more casual socializing with friends and neighbors.'
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah. One of the things that I was surprised to find when we did this research is that in a measurable way, urban sprawl, metropolitan sprawl, has contributed to civic disengagement. I mean, the--the--the general fact, as you know, from reading the book, is that every 10 minutes more of additional commuting time cuts all forms of social connection by 10 percent. Ten minutes more commuting time means 10 percent fewer dinner parties, 10 percent fewer dinners with your own family, 10 percent fewer club meetings, 10 percent less church-going, and so on. Twenty minutes more means 20 percent less of all those things.
So urban, metropolitan sprawl, and the time we spend sitting in--in metal boxes, has had a negative effect on our connections with our family and our community and our--our friends and so on. And, therefore, I think that there are--there are good social reasons, not just environmental reasons, for the sorts of anti-sprawl initiatives that--people in Atlanta, for example--Atlanta now has a quite--has engaged in--and the state of Georgia has engaged in a quite systematic set of public policy initiatives designed to reduce sprawl. Largely, for--there, I think, for environmental reasons. But I think it's also true that our family community life would be better if we could avoid that proliferation of long commutes.
LAMB: Number four: `Let us spur a new pluralistic, socially responsible great awakening so that by 2010 Americans will be more deeply engaged than we are today in one or another spiritual community of meaning while at the same time becoming more tolerant of the faiths and practices of other Americans.'
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah. Religion is an important part of American social capital, Brian. About half of--as a rough rule of thumb, about half of all social capital in America is religious. Half of all of our--philanthropy is religious, half of all of our volunteering is religious--in a religious context. Half of all of our social membership--group memberships are religious. So it matters a lot for the total stock of American social capital how engaged we are in religious activities.
And, as a citizen, I think it would be valuable if we had another one of these periods in which Americans--in which we've had historically, which Americans have become more aware of the values of religious communities, of religious values. Of course, there's a lot of talk about this--in this year's presidential election. And, by and large, I think that's a good thing, not a bad thing, that we're talking about. We're--we're aware of the role of religion and its positive contribution to our society. There's a qualification one has to add to that which is that sometimes involvement in religion is associated with intolerance of other people. And I think any of us who talk about increasing and--and having respect for the role of religion in American society, at the same time, have to say, always, `Yes, I'm willing to do this in a way that is tolerant of other people's faiths and other people's ideas.' And I think that's possible. I don't think that's a contradiction in terms. I think we can have greater--a greater role of religion in American life and still have tolerance.
LAMB: Five: `Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 Americans will spend less leisure time sitting passively alone in front of glowing screens and more time in active connection with our fellow citizens. Let us foster new forms of electronic entertainment and communication that reinforce community engagement rather than forestalling it.' How can you do that?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, you know, as I said before, I think entertainment television is really not so good for civic health. And, frankly, of all of the areas in which I--you can tell I have a kind of an activist-reformist's attitude. Of all the areas, this is the one that makes me the most--most pessimistic. Because, obviously, we're not going to abolish TV. And I don't--I'm not campaigning to have a `national turn off--turn off--turn off televisions.' But I do think that the Internet, which is in some respects evolving and in some respects merging with television--I don't mean immediately--immediately, now, but, I mean, the Internet industry and the--and the telecommunications industry and the entertainment industry are, to some extent, merging.
It does, to some--some degree, open opportunities, for those of us who are concerned about community-building, to be more creative in thinking about how we can have electronic communications contribute positively, not detract from or subtract from, real face-to-face social connections. I think there are ways in which television itself can contribute to community activity by shining spotlights on--on opportunities for people to get involved. But I also think that the Internet opens up the possibility. It doesn't guarantee that we'll make use of it, but it opens up the possibility of--not creating some fictitious cyber, you know, virtual community out there in space but using those techniques to reinforce real face-to-face connections in our communities. Community bulletin boards, for example, in which you--or neighborhood--neighborhood networks. A--a colleague of mine--colleague of mine at the University of Michigan, Paul Resnick, is a--computer science, and he's working on how to use the Internet to strengthen face-to-face ties within neighborhoods. Well, that's the kind of creative way in which I think electronic television--electronic entertainment may have a positive role to play.
LAMB: You have two more points, number six. `Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 significantly more Americans will participate in, not merely consume or appreciate, cultural activities from group dancing to songfest to community theater to rap festivals. Let us discover new ways to use the arts as a vehicle for convening diverse groups of fellow citizens.' Why would you throw rap festivals in there among cultural events?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, because I think it is an example of a cultural event. It--there--there--the--there's a--there's a great example that I cite here right here in--in--in Washington of--of people using rap groups and poetry slams to reach to communities, in this case, African-American young people, who would otherwise not be reached by--by cultural activities, and using them to build community, to build connections. The reason that I think arts and culture is important is not, you know, out of reverence for Shakespeare or something, but because arts, culture, participatory--participatory--participatory arts and culture, and sports, too, provide an unusually good vehicle for making connections that cross these other barriers in our society.
It's easier to make connections across lines of race or class or--or gender or--or generation, oftentimes, if one is doing that in the context of singing or--or making cultural productions of various sorts. I happen to be a--have a soft spot in my heart for choral societies because I--I, in my youth, spent a lot of time singing. And I think you can--you can make kinds of connections that are important in a s--in a--in an artistic and cultural context--I don't mean just watching or listening, I mean doing art--that would be harder to make if you were in a, quote, more "civic" context in which you were going to do eating your civic broccoli. I don't think that's--I think connecting can be fun. You know?
LAMB: Why did you pick 2010, by the way?
Prof. PUTNAM: Well, 10 years out from when the book was published. I think I was trying to ha--ha--be--I talk about goals, aspirations that couldn't happen overnight. But on the other hand, I didn't want to talk about something that was going to happen, you know, after my lifetime.
LAMB: Let me get the last one in here. `Let us find ways to ensure that by 2010 many more Americans will participate in the public life of our communities, running for office, attending public meetings, serving on committees, campaigning in elections, and even voting.'
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah, I think in the end I return to--to politics. I am a political scientist. I am interested in how Americans can take part in--in politics and not just in voting. I think it is a--this long-term, steady decline in political participation is a very bad sign for our--the health of our democracy. And I think there's a direct relationship between the fact that people are dropping out of politics, and dropping out of connecting with one another, as the decline of social capital, and the rise of all of this money in politics.
The reason--if you ask why do we have all of this money in politics, it's because politicians no longer can get their message to voters through social connections, through churches or org--or clubs or unions or whatever because those organizations have become weaker. And, therefore, they're relying on electronic mass media which costs money. And I think the role of money in politics is really quite dangerous to American society. So I'd like to see a kind of revision, reform of American politics, in which we gave social capital, that is, connections, greater weight, and less weight was given to financial capital.
LAMB: Did national politicians have impact on bringing us to where we are in the last 30 years, and can they have impact on the future of changing things?
Prof. PUTNAM: I don't think they--I don't think that politicians specifically blame--bear--bear much blame for the general decline in connectedness. It's not--it's not because of politicians that we've stopped going on picnics or having friends over to the house. I do think that as they respond to public demand for greater opportunity for people to connect with their family and communities that, yes, polit--national politicians can play a role. I think that the presidential candidates this year in both parties are genuinely interested in trying to find ways to make it possible for people to reconnect. This is very high on the private--it's a kitchen table issue. It's high on people's private agenda. How can I just find more time and opportunity to connect with people that I care about? And--and I think public policy changes could attribute to that.
LAMB: Have you gotten less or more attention when the book came out than when the article came out?
Prof. PUTNAM: Probably more. I certainly have talked to a lot more people, doing a lot more lecturing. Yeah, probably more. I think it's not necessarily a sign of me or the book. I think it's a sign that the country--this problem is maturing in people's consciousness. I think more people now than five years ago recognize that this is something we've got to do something about.
LAMB: What's your next book?
Prof. PUTNAM: How to look at this problem--seen from abroad. How we can--how--what lessons we can learn from other countries about connecting.
LAMB: And we don't have much time, but this all started with Italy and a study you did. How long did that study go on?
Prof. PUTNAM: That took 25 years so I'm a slow writer.
LAMB: What was the number one thing you found there?
Prof PUTNAM: That if you wanted to know where loc--where Italy was governed best, where people can actually--where people were most likely to enjoy the benefits of good government, it was a number of choral societies and football clubs.
LAMB: Do you have any idea who did this cover for you?
Prof. PUTNAM: Yeah. It's an--it's an artist in--in New York City. He's done a lot of other--a lot of other fine work.
LAMB: "Bowling Alone" is the name of the book and our guest has been Professor Robert Putnam. Thank you very much for joining us.
Prof. PUTNAM: My pleasure, Brian.
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