Here at Neighborly Town, we are all about improving neighborly relations. Periodically, we will report on the state of neighborly relations using sources that we believe to be reliable and informative.
According to its website, the General Social Survey (GSS) is a project of NORC at the University of Chicago, with principal funding from the National Science Foundation. Since 1972, the GSS has been monitoring societal change and studying the growing complexity of American society.
GSS research is a mixed bag when it comes to the state of neighborly relations. The good news is that even in this era in which technology and commuter times can isolate people from their neighbors, the majority of Americans socialize, at least occasionally, with some of their neighbors. The bad news is that the long-term trend is not good.
In 2017, the Washington Post reported that according to GSS data, 34% of neighbors say they never socialize with their neighbors. This unfavorable trend is on the rise. Even in small towns, an estimated 25% don’t bother to socialize with their neighbors.
Naturally, trust is a factor in neighborly relations. In 2016, the Pew Research Center reported that only 52% of Americans trust most or all of their neighbors. This percentage drops to 46% in urban settings and to 39% for people age 18-29. The report also revealed that the older, wealthier, and better educated a person is, the more he or she is trusting of neighbors.
Insurance giant, State Farm, has made it a corporate priority to help improve neighborhoods and communities and also conducts research on the subject. This makes sense given it’s tagline, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”
In 2016, State Farm released the results of a survey on neighborly relations. They concluded through the title of the report that “Today’s Neighbors Crave Interaction, But Data Show There’s Little Follow Through.”
In its report, State Farm highlighted four takeaways:
- Millennials aren’t connecting, but they want to: 40 percent of millennials wish they were more connected with neighbors, but are least likely to have had a face-to-face interaction in the last month (58 percent among millennials vs. 61 percent to 79 percent among older generations).
- The neighborhood gathering is organized by a dedicated few: 58 percent of neighbors says it’s important for neighbors to socialize, but only 16 percent of men and 11 percent of women have ever organized a social event. And 42 percent of men/34 percent of women regularly get together for holidays/events with their neighbors.
- Welcoming is important, but not happening: The majority (75 percent) of neighbors say it is important to welcome new neighbors, but only 41 percent say they were welcomed when they moved in. Only 46 percent actually welcomed someone new into the neighborhood.
- Everyday helpfulness is valued, but not requested: Though indicated as a good neighbor trait, only 37 percent of respondents reported that they were more likely to ask a neighbor for help with a small project than a friend who does not live in their neighborhood. Although for those age 51 and older helping a neighbor in need is commonly defined as a good neighbor.
2017 saw neighborhood private social media site, Nextdoor, achieve representation in an estimated 75% of all US neighborhoods (approximately 145,000 neighborhoods), according to a report. This year also saw them begin to expand to other countries and monetize the site most notably with real estate ads. This is an example of how technology can help bring neighbors and neighborhoods together as opposed to further isolating them.
Politicians, sociologists, psychologists, and theologians don’t agree on everything, but there seems to be universal agreement that people are made to live in community and they thrive in communities that are caring, close-knit, and socially engaging. In light of current conditions, the key to improving neighborly relations may be in harnessing technology in such a way that it fosters and promotes this instead of further isolating those who are not predisposed to be neighborly.