Resilient Small Rural Towns and Community Shocks


  • Terry L. Besser Iowa State University


What distinguishes resilient small towns from towns that never recover from the shock of a natural disaster or plant closing? We define resilient towns as those that are able to maintain or enhance residents' quality of life after a shock. Previous studies suggest that towns with a combination of moderate bonding social capital, high bridging social capital, and high local capitalism will be more resilient than other shocked towns. These expectations were tested using longitudinal data gathered before and after shocks from a relatively large sample of small rural towns located in one Midwestern state. Findings show that the quality of life declined in all sampled towns over the decade. However among shocked and non-shocked towns alike, higher levels of bonding and bridging social capital in 1994 were associated with less of a decline in quality of life over the decade. These findings suggest that building linkages within groups and across diverse groups is an effective strategy for shock preparedness and for general community betterment.

Author Biography

Terry L. Besser, Iowa State University

Terry L. Besser is a professor of sociology at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. Her scholarship is in the broad areas of sociology of the economy and community studies. She is currently working on two related research projects. One involves business networks as a mechanism for enhancing rural economic vitality and the second examines how social capital is related to community resilience in the face of economic shocks. She has published refereed journal articles and a book on the relationship between business networks and community culture and business social responsibility. Prior studies examined the work culture for American employees at Japanese automobile plants.