Brits increasingly “Bowling Alone”

(photo by Matthew Strong)

(photo by Matthew Strong)

Research commissioned for the BBC found that UK society is a far lonelier one over the last 30 years (1971-2001), noting that “neighbourhoods in every part of the UK have become more socially fragmented.”

Daniel Dorling (at Sheffield Univ.) headed the research team which created a formula based on “the proportion of people in an area who are single, those who live alone, the numbers in private rented accommodation and those who have lived there for less than a year….The higher the proportion of people in those categories, the less rooted the community, according to social scientists. They refer to it as the level of ‘anomie’ or the ‘feeling of not belonging’.”

Using these measures they found that the weakest communities in 1971 were stronger than the strongest communities in 2001.  An astonishing 97% of neighborhoods had experienced this increased isolation over these 30 years.

“The researchers conclude that the increase in anomie weakens the “social glue” of communities. The result, they suggest, is that neighbourhoods are likely to be less trusting and more fearful.”

While the methodology is different (and far less multi-dimensional), this is of a piece with the increased social isolation and declines in social capital found by Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone over a similar period in the US (although the US declines probably began in the late 1950s/early 1960s).  [For some assertions that the British civic decline is less steep, see Democracies in Flux, with a chapter by British academic Peter Hall.]

See BBC news story, “Life in UK ‘has become lonelier‘ (including a map of these trends).

Full report “Changing UK” available here.

2 responses to “Brits increasingly “Bowling Alone”

  1. Do you agree with the findings?

    Is it possible that, concurrently, we are experiencing the “revolutionary rise in social capital” that Nan Lin predicted? This has really emerged since 2004 when broadband connection over took slower connections …

    I look forward to your response.

  2. I think the story sounds plausible. Data is not as strong in the UK as in the US, but I think best thinking is that if US had “social capital pneumonia”, the UK has had a bad cold and caught it later (i.e., downtrends started happening a bit later). Best sources of evidence are ones that were gathered from different datasets, using different methodologies, that converge on the same answer (see “Bowling Alone” for such research). This dramatically reduces the potential bias or error in any one source.

    I don’t think that these societally-wide patterns were brought on by broadband, although that may have made things better or worse. Inherently the Internet offers the potential to help reweave some of our social ties, although probably more of our time on the Internet goes into passive viewing than active interconnecting with others. [The latter is a complex, under-researched area in which we really don’t fully understand, IMHO, the impact of the current technology.]

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