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The Social Breakdown: The Poverty of Family, Community, and Religious Life in America

American Enterprise Institute

May 4, 2023

On May 4, AEI’s Center on Opportunity and Social Mobility (COSM) hosted the launch of “The Social Breakdown,” a new research series dedicated to the study of social capital.

Event Summary

The morning began with a keynote address from the Hudson Institute’s William Schambra, who covered AEI’s long history of studying mediating structures and civil society. After his remarks, he was joined by Indiana University’s Leslie Lenkowsky and the Woodson Center’s Robert Woodson—two integral contributors to AEI’s previous research efforts—who discussed the myriad ways that government crowds out civil society.

Later, an expert panel affirmed the importance of stable, two-parent families for building social connection and experiencing upward economic mobility. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) then gave remarks about the research efforts of the Joint Economic Committee’s Social Capital Project, which has investigated the relationship between our social connections and the health of our society.

The afternoon consisted of multiple panels covering topics ranging from renewing trust in our shared institutions to reinvigorating religious life in America. The event concluded with remarks from Scott Winship, the director of COSM, who contended that our public policy should pay particular mind to the social structures that are most important to our collective well-being—our families, congregations, and communities.

—Thomas O’Rourke

Event Description

Social capital—the value inhering in our relationships and institutions—is in decline in America. Participation in community and civil society is withering. Relationships within our homes, associations, churches, and workplaces have weakened. We are less trusting of our neighbors and our government than ever before. America is suffering from mutually reinforcing crises of social isolation, nonparticipation, and distrust, leaving us lonely, resentful, and without a sense of purpose.

Join AEI’s Center on Opportunity and Social Mobility for a discussion of the state of social capital in America and the launch of a new research series, the Social Breakdown, which aims to uncover why America’s social fabric is breaking down and what we can do to rebuild social capital.

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