How social connectedness between neighbours supports health and well-being

Read our first in a series of Hey Neighbour evidence backgrounders.

Decades of research shows that being socially connected helps us live longer, healthier, and happier lives. But it isn’t just our family ties, close friendships, or group membership that make a difference. Evidence reveals that the health benefits of social connectedness can be unlocked starting at home, with our own neighbours. 

Background 

Social connectedness is vital to our health and well-being. Substantial evidence shows that people who are socially connected live longer.(1,2) A lack of social connection — marked by social isolation and loneliness — increases risk for premature death by as much as 50%, comparable to major health risks like obesity, smoking, and air pollution.(2,3) The effect of social connectedness on life expectancy is independent of other risk factors like age, sex, initial health status, lifestyle factors, income, and education. In addition to premature mortality, poor social connectedness has been linked to a range of other adverse physical, cognitive, and mental health outcomes, including increased risk of heart disease and stroke, respiratory infection, dementia, depression and anxiety.(2)

The influence that social connectedness has on our health and well-being can be biological, psychological, or behavioural. For example, social connectedness influences immune functioning and inflammation, which has been linked to several chronic diseases. Supportive social connections also help us cope with stress, and influence healthy behaviours like sleep and physical activity.(2)

Given mounting evidence on its health effects, local and global declines in social connectedness are increasingly recognized as a public health crisis that requires policy action at all levels. New data shows that more than 1 in 10 British Columbians reported feeling lonely always or often.(4) For young adults or those living alone, the proportion of people experiencing loneliness doubles to more than 1 in 4.(5) In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Surgeon General has described social connectedness as equally important to global recovery as vaccines. Evidence shows that one way to curb social isolation and loneliness is to start at home, by building connections and community among neighbours. 

What we know

People who live in socially connected neighbourhoods report better physical health, mental health, and well-being. 

  • Frequent social interaction and trust among neighbors are associated with higher levels of happiness, well-being, and life satisfaction.(6–9) Evidence shows that neighbourhood connectedness is most important to life satisfaction for certain groups of residents — including people who are older, living on a low income, less educated, or in poor health.(9) A possible explanation for this is that residents who have limited mobility (due to health issues or lack of resources, for example) will be more dependent on the support of local connections, compared to people whose social networks extend outside their neighbourhood.(9) Differences in the relative importance of neighbourhood connectedness is also likely explained by the influence of major life events and life stages; for example, the neighbourhood may become more central when people have children, become widowed, lose their job, or experience illness or disability.(9) 
  • Neighbourhood cohesion (a measure of the degree of connectedness, reciprocity, and trust among neighbours) has been linked to a range of health behaviours and physical health outcomes, including lower risk of depression and cardiovascular disease, increased physical activity, and higher self-rated health.(10–14) 

Connections between neighbours can be beneficial to health and well-being at all stages of life. 

  • When Canadian parents have strong trust in neighbours, their children are twice as likely to play outdoors in their neighbourhood every day, which is fundamental to their physical emotional, and social well-being.(15)
  • For youth, living in a community where neighbours support, help, and trust each other is associated with a number of positive outcomes – including better mental and physical health, enhanced feelings of safety and self-esteem, and less risky and violent behaviour.(16–18)
  • For older adults, neighbourhood social ties are associated with better emotional well-being and self-rated health, lower risk of mortality, and decreased loneliness — especially for individuals who do not have children or a partner.(19) Similarly, well-being during middle and later life is found to decrease if contact with neighbours declines or is continuously low over time.(20)

Neighbours are an important source of tangible and emotional support — key ingredients for health and well-being.

  • Neighbouring is a vehicle for accessing practical and psychological support that helps us cope with the challenges of everyday life.(21,22) In an international study on the impact of small acts of kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing social support to neighbours lowered levels of loneliness. In addition, participants who knew at least six neighbours reported less loneliness, depression, anxiety, and financial concern.(23,24)
  • Studies with older adults show that spontaneous interactions between neighbours contributes to a sense of community belonging(20,25), which is linked to higher levels of mental health, physical health, and life satisfaction.(26–28) Some research even suggests that for older adults, social support from neighbours benefits mental health more than support from family or friends.(20)
  • One way that neighbouring might curb loneliness and improve health is through increasing people’s neighbourhood identity. A recent 0study on the impact of Neighbour Day in Australia found that street parties and other events to encourage residents to build social connections in their local community led to a sustained increase in neighbourhood identification, in turn enhancing social cohesion and well-being.(29) 

References

  1. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB. Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. Brayne C, editor. PLoS Med [Internet]. 2010 Jul 27 [cited 2018 Aug 22];7(7):e1000316. Available from: https://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316
  2. Holt-Lunstad J. Social Connection as a Public Health Issue: The Evidence and a Systemic Framework for Prioritizing the “Social” in Social Determinants of Health. https://doi.org/101146/annurev-publhealth-052020-110732 [Internet]. 2022 Apr 5 [cited 2022 Apr 28];43(1):193–213. Available from: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-052020-110732
  3. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stephenson D. Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality. Perspect Psychol Sci [Internet]. 2015 Mar 11 [cited 2018 Nov 30];10(2):227–37. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25910392
  4. Statistics Canada. The Daily — Canadian Social Survey: Loneliness in Canada [Internet]. Canada Social Survey, Wave 2. 2021 [cited 2022 May 5]. Available from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/211124/dq211124e-eng.htm
  5. Statistics Canada. Loneliness in Canada [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 May 5]. Available from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/11-627-M2021090
  6. Oshio T. Which is More Relevant for Perceived Happiness, Individual-Level or Area-Level Social Capital? A Multilevel Mediation Analysis. J Happiness Stud. 2017 Jun 1;18(3):765–83. 
  7. Helliwell JF, Putnam RD. The social context of well-being. Philos Trans R Soc B Biol Sci [Internet]. 2004 Sep 29 [cited 2022 Apr 29];359(1449):1435. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC1693420/
  8. Powdthavee N. Putting a price tag on friends, relatives, and neighbours: Using surveys of life satisfaction to value social relationships. J Socio Econ. 2008 Aug 1;37(4):1459–80. 
  9. Hoogerbrugge MM, Burger MJ. Neighborhood-Based social capital and life satisfaction: the case of Rotterdam, The Netherlands. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/101080/0272363820181474609 [Internet]. 2018 Nov 26 [cited 2022 Apr 29];39(10):1484–509. DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2018.1474609
  10. Kawachi I, Subramanian SV, Kim D. Social Capital and Health. In: Social Capital and Health [Internet]. New York, NY: Springer New York; 2008 [cited 2018 Mar 19]. p. 1–26. Available from: https://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-0-387-71311-3_1
  11. Roux AVD, Mair C. Neighborhoods and health. Ann N Y Acad Sci [Internet]. 2010 Feb 1 [cited 2018 Aug 22];1186(1):125–45. Available from: https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05333.x
  12. Murayama H, Fujiwara Y, Kawachi I. Social capital and health: a review of prospective multilevel studies. J Epidemiol [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2018 Oct 2];22(3):179–87. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22447212
  13. Quinn TD, Wu F, Mody D, Bushover B, Mendez DD, Schiff M, et al. Associations Between Neighborhood Social Cohesion and Physical Activity in the United States, National Health Interview Survey, 2017. Prev Chronic Dis [Internet]. 2019 Dec 1 [cited 2022 Apr 29];16(12). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31858956/
  14. Robinette JW, Bostean G, Glynn LM, Douglas JA, Jenkins BN, Gruenewald TL, et al. Perceived neighborhood cohesion buffers COVID-19 impacts on mental health in a United States sample. Soc Sci Med. 2021 Sep 1;285:114269. 
  15. Parent N, Guhn M, Brussoni M, Almas A, Oberle E. Social determinants of playing outdoors in the neighbourhood: family characteristics, trust in neighbours and daily outdoor play in early childhood. Can J Public Health [Internet]. 2021 Feb 1 [cited 2022 Apr 29];112(1):120–7. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32757122/
  16. Wang SC, Fowler PJ. Social Cohesion, Neighborhood Collective Efficacy, and Adolescent Subjective Well-being in Urban and Rural Taiwan. Am J Community Psychol [Internet]. 2019 Jun 1 [cited 2022 Apr 29];63(3–4):499–510. DOI: 10.1002/ajcp.12324
  17. Donnelly L, McLanahan S, Brooks-Gunn J, Garfinkel I, Wagner BG, Jacobsen WC, et al. Cohesive neighborhoods where social expectations are shared may have positive impact on adolescent mental health. Health Aff. 2016 Aug 2;35(11):2083–91. 
  18. Cohen DA, Finch BK, Bower A, Sastry N. Collective efficacy and obesity: the potential influence of social factors on health. Soc Sci Med [Internet]. 2006 Feb [cited 2022 Apr 29];62(3):769–78. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16039767/
  19. Ermer AE, Proulx CM. Associations Between Social Connectedness, Emotional Well-Being, and Self-Rated Health Among Older Adults: Difference by Relationship Status. Res Aging [Internet]. 2019 Apr 1 [cited 2022 Apr 29];41(4):336–61. DOI: 10.1177/0164027518815260
  20. Greenfield EA, Reyes L. Continuity and Change in Relationships with Neighbors: Implications for Psychological Well-being in Middle and Later Life. Journals Gerontol Ser B [Internet]. 2015 Jul 1 [cited 2022 Apr 29];70(4):607–18. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/article/70/4/607/649802
  21. Seifert A, Schelling HR. Everyday Meaning of Neighboring in Old Age in an Urban District. https://doi.org/101080/0038023720201783408 [Internet]. 2020 Jul 2 [cited 2022 May 3];53(3):322–36. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00380237.2020.1783408
  22. Seifert A, König R. Help From and Help to Neighbors Among Older Adults in Europe. Front Sociol. 2019 May 30;4:46. 
  23. Ball K, Cleland VJ, Timperio AF, Salmon J, Giles-Corti B, Crawford DA. Love thy neighbour? Associations of social capital and crime with physical activity amongst women. Soc Sci Med [Internet]. 2010 Aug [cited 2018 Apr 2];71(4):807–14. Available from: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0277953610004107
  24. Lim MH, Qualter P, Hennessey A, Smith BJ, Argent T, Holt-Lunstad J. A randomised controlled trial of the Nextdoor Kind Challenge: a study protocol. BMC Public Health [Internet]. 2021 Dec 1 [cited 2022 May 4];21(1):1–17. Available from: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-11489-y
  25. Gardner PJ. Natural neighborhood networks — Important social networks in the lives of older adults aging in place. J Aging Stud. 2011 Aug 1;25(3):263–71. 
  26. Hystad P, Carpiano RM. Sense of community-belonging and health-behaviour change in Canada. J Epidemiol Community Health [Internet]. 2012 Mar 1 [cited 2018 Aug 22];66(3):277–83. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20947874
  27. Carpiano RM, Hystad PW. “Sense of community belonging” in health surveys: What social capital is it measuring? Health Place [Internet]. 2011 Mar [cited 2018 Mar 16];17(2):606–17. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296607
  28. Cicognani E, Pirini C, Keyes C, Joshanloo M, Rostami R, Nosratabadi M. Social participation, sense of community and social well being: A study on American, Italian and Iranian University students. Soc Indic Res [Internet]. 2008 Nov 29 [cited 2022 May 5];89(1):97–112. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11205-007-9222-3
  29. Fong P, Cruwys T, Robinson SL, Haslam SA, Haslam C, Mance PL, et al. Evidence that loneliness can be reduced by a whole-of-community intervention to increase neighbourhood identification. Soc Sci Med. 2021 May 1;277:113909. 

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