Defining and Measuring Social Cohesion

image of Defining and Measuring Social Cohesion

The country case studies and thematic papers in this series examine social policy issues facing small states and their implications for economic development. They show how, despite their inherent vulnerability, some small states have been successful in improving their social indicators because of the complementary social and economic policies they have implemented.


Social cohesion is a concept with multiple definitions and uses in the development community. Its general aim is to ensure that all citizens, without discrimination and on an equal footing, have access to fundamental social and economic rights. Jane Jenson examines this concept in policy debates and assesses its role in social development. Part I examines the literature on social cohesion, identifying three different ‘families’ of usage and the empirical grounding of each. Part II presents a range of indicators that have previously been used to measure social cohesion. Part III provides some discussion of the lessons to be drawn and the indicators that might be used to measure social cohesion in future.




The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development defines social policy as ‘public policies and institutions that aim to protect citizens from social contingencies and poverty, and ultimately to enable them to strive for their own life goals’, a definition that serves well here. The agency also recognises that ‘during the past three decades, such a view has been marginalised by policy approaches that emphasise safety nets and the targeting of vulnerable groups’.1 As this paper will document, concerns about social cohesion come at a time of ‘after neoliberalism’, when social policy is being rethought (Jenson, 2007). Social policy is once again seen as a key underpinning of economic performance by many jurisdictions, from the local to the supranational and international, but there is little chance there will be a return to the practices of the trente glorieuses, the three decades of growth after 1945. This is the context for the following discussion of social cohesion and its impact on social development.


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