Is city living making us feel alone?
Do you remember the last time that you walked passed a stranger and said hello to them? Where were you? It was likely to be a quiet place. People in crowded places tend not to acknowledge each other. It seems that the more people you see, the fewer interactions you have, so the fact that people feel alone whilst in a crowd is hardly surprising.
The long term trend of urbanisation does not appear to be slowing down. Since 2007, more people live in urban areas than rural areas (#1). This is worrisome as there is increasing evidence that city living is bad for you. City living can contribute to a range of mental health conditions (#2), and it also lowers a person’s capacity to handle stressful situations (#3). Together with urbanisation, household sizes have decreased substantially and the proportion of people who live alone is on the rise (#4). Because of this, it is not hard to find indications that more people feel alone and have fewer friends (#5).
Improving social connections in urban environments is really important for a person’s quality of life. Research has shown that poor social relationships can have an even higher impact on mortality rates than obesity, smoking or alcohol (#6). In addition to this, the problem of loneliness involves a significant proportion of the population. We have previously reported studies showing that 7 in 10 men feel lonely at some time in their lives. Men also have a really hard time expressing their feelings and seeking help, which contributes to the problem being underplayed by the same people who would benefit from potential solutions.
It is important to note, that living in large cities per se does not cause people to feel alone. Cities can be designed to improve social interaction (#5) to a point that living in large cities can actually be the best place to overcome loneliness (#7). To start, the fact that there are more people around creates more opportunities for interactions. Even though people in large cities tend to keep to themselves, there is always someone to help you out if you fall on the streets and hurt yourself. Even if strong connections are hard to form, large cities help people form many weak links with people. These acquaintances can always be leveraged when there is a need for interactions. Larger cities also have more entertainment options and offer better health and support services, which is perhaps some of the reasons for lower suicide rates in larger cities.
The loneliness problem is increasing and because of the negative effects that this can have in people’s lives, it is really crucial that we need to find solutions for it. We believe that part of the solution for the loneliness problem is the use of technology to allow people to help each other and reduce the effort in finding new friends. This is the reason why we are creating mobile apps like Foster Friends and Get Social. We also believe that city planning that foster people’s interaction should be just as important as providing a safe and clean environment for people to live.
- United Nations (UN) (New York, NY [etc.]).
World urbanization prospects: the 2014 revision.
UN. Department of economic and social affairs, 2014.
- Peen, J., R. A. Schoevers, A. T. Beekman, and J. Dekker.
The current status of urban‐rural differences in psychiatric disorders.
Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 121, no. 2 (2010): 84-93.
- Lederbogen, Florian, Peter Kirsch, Leila Haddad, Fabian Streit, Heike Tost, Philipp Schuch, Stefan Wüst et al.
City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans.
Nature 474, no. 7352 (2011): 498-501.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics
Households and families.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. Updated: 21 Jan 2013. Captured: 15 Jan 2015
- Kelly, J-F.; Breadon, P.; Davis, C.; Hunter, A.; Mares, P.; Mullerworth, D.; Weidmann, B.
Grattan Institute, Melbourne. 2012. ISBN: 978-1-925015-22-5
- Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, Timothy B. Smith, and J. Bradley Layton.
Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review.
PLoS medicine 7, no. 7 (2010): e1000316.
- Jennifer Senior
New York Magazine. 23 Nov 2008