Social engagement (also social involvement, social participation) refers to one's degree of participation in a community or society.
Prohaska, Anderson and Binstock (2012) noted that the term social engagement is commonly used to refer to one's participation in the activities of a social group. The term has been defined by Avison, McLeod and Pescosolido (2007) as "the extent to which an individual participates in a broad range of social roles and relationships." and by Zhang, Jiang, and Carroll as "the commitment of a member to stay in the group and interact with other members".
Prohaska, Anderson and Binstock (2012) noted that the term has not always been used consistently in literature, and can be sometimes confused with several other similar (but distinct) concepts from social sciences. Social engagement is different from the concept of a social network, as social network focuses on a group, rather than the activity. They similarly note the difference between social engagement and social capital, the latter defined as "resources available to individuals and groups through their social connections to communities". Civic engagement is also different, as it refers to political activity, membership and volunteering in civil society organizations.
Social engagement is related to participation in collective activities, which reinforces social capital and social norms. Key elements of social engagement include activity (doing something), interaction (at least two people need to be involved in this activity), social exchange (the activity involves giving or receiving something from others), and lack of compulsion (there is no outside force forcing an individual to engage in the activity). For the most part, social engagement excludes activities for which one is getting paid, or family obligations.
A common metric of social engagement is the quantifiable volume of activity. A traditional form of social engagement, such as church going, may be measured by the number of one's visits to the church. In the Internet setting a metric of social engagement on a discussion board may take the form of the number of posts made.
One of the main topics in studying social engagement by social scientists has related to whether individuals are more or less engaged with various communities. Some studies have suggested that modern information and communication technologies have made it easier for individuals to become socially engaged in more distant or virtual communities, and thus have decreased their involvement in local communities (see also Bowling Alone).
High social engagement has been identified with improved happiness and health and well-being; however, context is important. High social engagement in deviant, delinquent activities such as membership in a criminal organization can be detrimental to one's health, as can be being too involved (having too many social roles), which can lead to stress due to conflicts between roles.
- Thomas R. Prohaska; Lynda A. Anderson; Robert H. Binstock (5 April 2012). Public Health for an Aging Society. JHU Press. pp. 249–252. ISBN 978-1-4214-0535-3. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- William R. Avison; Jane D. McLeod; Bernice A. Pescosolido (8 January 2007). Mental Health, Social Mirror. Springer. p. 333. ISBN 978-0-387-36319-6. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- Zhang, S., Jiang, H., & Carroll, J. M. (2011). Integrating online and offline community through Facebook. 2011 International Conference on Collaboration Technologies and Systems (CTS), 569-578. doi: 10.1109/CTS.2011.5928738 
- "Keys to Quality Youth Development". University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
- Keith G. Banting; Andrew Sharpe; France St-Hilaire (6 January 2001). The Review of Economic Performance and Social Progress, 2001. IRPP. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-88645-190-5. Retrieved 16 September 2012.
- Laura L. Carstensen; Christine R. Hartel (28 February 2006). When I'm 64. National Academies Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-309-10064-9. Retrieved 16 September 2012.