A Third of Americans Have Never Met Their Neighbors

Photo: NBC

If you vaguely recognize the people who live next door to you, but are not quite sure of their names because you’ve never actually exchanged a word with them — congratulations, you’re part of a growing American trend, writes City Lab. According to a recent report from City Observatory — an urban-policy think tank funded in part by the Knight Foundation — about one third of Americans say they have never interacted with their neighbors. 

Compare that to the 1970s, when “nearly 30 percent of Americans frequently spent time with their neighbors, and only 20 percent had no interactions with them,” writes economist Joe Cortright, who used data from the General Social Survey to write the City Observatory report. “Today, those proportions are reversed.” 

via City Observatory

As Linda Poon points out in her write-up over at City Lab, this change may be explained at least in part because it’s now so much easier to stay in touch with the people we care about who don’t live nearby, so perhaps that’s where we’re putting more of our social energy. It’s not like we’re avoiding knowing our neighbors on purpose, in other words. And, of course, this also ties in with research like Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone, on the increasing disconnect of individuals from community in the U.S.

And yet, despite what the trend lines may indicate, there’s a psychological case for introducing yourself. One 2011 study by Eileen E.S. Bjornstrom at the University of Missouri, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, found that people who said they knew and trusted their neighbors were also more likely to report higher rates of health and well-being than those who said they did not know or trust their neighbors. And still other studies have shown how making time for a little small talk with people you don’t know ultimately makes your day more enjoyable — even if you don’t expect it to, and even if it’s a little awkward. If you haven’t already, today seems like as good a day as any to just say hi. 

A Third of Americans Don’t Know Their Neighbors