The Position Generator is a popular measurement instrument for individual level social capital. Empirical studies have tested or discussed measurement properties of the instrument, but not the underlying response process. In 35 semi-structured cognitive interviews across gender, education, and age groups, we asked respondents to reflect on the 1999/2000 Social Survey of the Dutch (SSND) Position Generator. Effects found were unfamiliarity with occupations, interpretation of occupations, unknown occupations of alters, forcing alters into occupations, speculation, forgetting single alters and groups of alters, but not detectable misrepresentation of alters. In only 6 interviews all alters were working in a paid job (as the PG assumes); most remarkable alternatives were retired, unemployed, or deceased alters. An overall impression of the responses is that recalling alters to fit occupations feels counterintuitive to how relationships are memorized. Item validity and reliability are therefore likely to be negatively affected, but whether all combined ambiguities affect social capital measures is difficult to predict. Yet, an underestimation of social capital seems likely. Implications and ideas for future development of PGs are discussed.
Keywords: Measurement, Individual Level Social Capital, Position Generator, Validity, Item Reliability, Survey Response Models, Cognitive Methods.