Sense of Community Belonging

Sex and Gender-based Analysis of this topic

Definition

Sense of community belonging refers to the interaction that a person has with others in their community and the community as a whole [1].  Sense of community belonging is linked to the notion of social capital, which refers to the social organization of communities that allows for interaction between community members [3]. People with a high sense of community belonging are likely to have more ties to other individuals. Conversely people with a low sense of community belonging are likely to be social isolated and have fewer ties to other individuals.

In Canada, sense of community belonging is measured as the percentage of the population surveyed that rate their sense of belonging to their local community as: very weak; somewhat weak; somewhat strong; or very strong.  A number of studies have shown a correlation between sense of community belonging with physical and mental health [2]. People who report a strong sense of community are more likely to report good physical and mental health [3]. According to the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), 64% of the Canadian population reported having a strong or somewhat strong sense of community belonging [2].

 
 
Sex Issues

Canadian women and men report similar levels of community belonging with 65% of women reporting a strong or somewhat strong sense of community compared to 64% of men [2]. Women and men who have strong social ties are more likely to have higher levels of physical and mental health compared to individuals who are socially isolated [4,5]. There are a number of ways in which community connectedness may promote women’s and men’s health.

Community involvement can increase women’s and men’s access to material resources needed to promote one’s health [6,7], and interactions with community members can enforce positive health behaviours, such as maintenance of smoking cessation and breast self-examination [8-10]. Conversely, interactions with community members could also reinforce negative health behaviours such as smoking and drinking. For example, a number of studies have shown higher uptake of cancer screening by women with strong social networks compared to women with weak social networks [11-12]. 

 
 
Gender Issues

Traditionally defined gender roles affect the way women and men engage with their communities. For example, while more men than women are engaged in the paid workforce (73% versus 61%), women are more likely to occupy the role of the caregiver, connecting women to their families and communities [13]. There are also differences in how women and men engage in social connectedness and social ties, based on what are considered appropriate “gendered” behaviours. These gender roles may help account for the slightly higher sense of belonging reported by women compared to men.

 
 
Diversity

Community belonging in Canada has been shown to vary depending on the language spoken at home. A greater proportion of people who spoke English at home (68%) reported a strong sense of community belonging compared to people who spoke primarily French in the home (55%) [3]. Among people who spoke languages other than English at home, 60% reported a strong sense of belonging [3]. Since language spoken at home is often an indicator of culture, this data suggests that culture may be a determinant of community belonging.  Approximately 64% of off-reserve Aboriginal people reported a strong sense of community belonging [3].

Age also affects a sense of community belonging; young adults may have a lower sense of belonging compared to older adults. According to data from the Community belonging and self-perceived health study, adults between 18-29 years reported  the lowest sense of belonging (55%) compared to adults between the ages of 30-44 years (62%) and seniors, defined as 65 years and older (72%) [3].

According to data from Statistics Canada, individuals with low household incomes also reported a lower sense of community belonging compared to middle and upper income groups. However, there was very little difference in reported sense of community belonging between people in middle, upper or high incomes, suggesting there is an income threshold that increases the potential for community connectedness [14].

 
 
Critique

The concepts of ‘community belonging’ can be broadly defined and understood. Diverse interpretations of the term ‘community’ – in terms of geography, identity, or shared interest and goal – may potentially affect the measurement of the ‘sense of community belonging’ indicator. Additionally, people who use virtual social networking tools such as Facebook may have a different notion of community compared to people who do not use these tools.  Also, as community belonging intersects a number of other concepts, it can be further understood using measurements such as social capital, social support, social networks, social ties, and social exclusion among others.

Current Canadian data are cross-sectional (measured at a single point in time), rather than longitudinal in nature (measured at multiple points over time) making it challenging to determine if health influences women’s and men’s sense of community belonging or if sense of community belonging influences one’s health [15]. 

Since self-perceived health is measured via self-report, psychological factors may influence people’s perceptions [16].  Because of this, it is difficult to determine the extent to which physical and mental factors contribute to the association between health and community belonging [15]. More data are needed to understand which factors influence women’s perception of community belonging and how women’s perception of belonging are related to their health.

 
 
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