Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Reshaping Social Capital During the Pandemic Crisis: Age Group Differences in Face‐to‐Face Contact Network Structures

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Abstract:  This article presents findings about the impact of the first Covid‐related lockdown on the face‐to‐face (FTF) interpersonal contact networks of the Hungarian adult population. Our primary objective is to understand how the size, composition, and quality of such networks have changed. We base our analysis on the contact‐diary method. Our data were collected from two representative surveys of the Hungarian adult population: one in 2015 (N = 372) and one in May 2020 (N = 1001) during the first wave of the Covid‐19 epidemic. No decline in the overall bonding social capital can be detected; however, social isolation has increased. A restructuring has occurred: a considerable increase manifests in the proportion of kin ties, especially children, and a decrease in the importance of non‐kin ties, with a particularly sharp decline in friendships. FTF contacts indicate an increased emotional intensity (except for non‐kin, non‐household members) and an increase in the length of conversations, but there is a decrease in the frequency of meeting alters. The changes wrought different effects on different age groups, with the restrictions most negatively affecting the size of FTF contact networks for respondents aged 60 years or older. Our findings point to the stability and resilience of close family relations, yet the doubling of social isolation as early as May 2020 underlines fears about the pandemic’s potentially detrimental effects on social connectedness. The decline in friendship ties (and most probably in other weak ties) may lead to a reduction not only in the amount and scope of accessible social capital but also to a weakening social integration.

Keywords:  age groups; contact diary method; Covid‐19; epidemic‐specific social capital; face‐to‐face contacts; social isolation


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© Beáta Dávid, Boglárka Herke, Éva Huszti, Gergely Tóth, Emese Túry‐Angyal, Fruzsina Albert. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.