Rick Bateman of Social Circles Canada has been doing some research on the social wellness of people who live in the Victoria area of British Columbia. Here are the results and his analysis:
For the months of September/October Social Circles been conducting an on-line survey and invited members of the Victoria general public to participate. During the two months a total of 122 people did so. I ran a separate, identical survey with Social Circles members and those 27 additional results are not included in this summary.
Over the course of the two months participation was invited through the Social Circles website, display advertisements in the Times Colonist and the Black Press group of newspapers such as the Oak Bay News and Saanich News, among others. An email invitation was sent to 1,500 Victoria based individuals representing a broad demographic sample. Also during this time an advertisement for Social Circles appeared in Boulevard Magazine and a full page write up about us appeared in the Times Colonist.
In addition to asking for basic demographic information such as gender and age, I asked four social wellness questions:
1. How many close, personal friends do you have?
2. How often do you spend time with a close, personal friend?
3. How often do you engage in social activities NOT related to work or career?
4. How many NEW close, personal friends have you made in the past twelve months?
These four questions may be considered similar to the “annual physical” exam we might experience at the doctors office. Like taking your blood pressure, weight, and checking your lungs and other systems, a doctor can tell a lot about a person in general from some very basic information….
Before we review the answers to the above questions, lets look at the demographic results.
77% of the respondents are female. This is reflects a normal gender participation rate in social activities other than sports in general. Ask any woman.
57% of respondents are between 42 and 60 years of age – Baby Boomers. 15% are under 41 and 33% are over 61. This spread is representative of Victoria demographics in general per BC Stats as reported on the Victoria Vital Signs website.
About 40% of the respondents are in a relationship of some kind and the remainder are single, widowed or divorced.
53% of the respondents live alone. This is significantly higher than the 49% reported by Statistics Canada for the city in 2001. Based on the trend North America wide I suggest this is not reflective of a margin of error but rather simply an update.
The over 80% of the respondents have post secondary education. This is no surprise as educational attainment is directly correlated with civic participation. 40% have university degrees.
In terms of employment almost 80% are working, 36% retired and 6% attending school.
Overall, the above figures represents a picture of Victoria which is reflective of the data found in much larger sample sizes such as BC Stats and Stats Canada. Given that, I think it is safe assume that the following figures are equally representative.
In answer to the question, “How many close, personal friends do you have?” 63% said three or more with the remaining people answering two or less. 10% have only one friend and approximately one in ten people have none.
Research has shown that the physical and mental health of people with less than four close personal friends suffers significantly. Interestingly, there is little gain shown by having more than four. North America wide, the average person now has just two close, personal friends. 50% of the population have only one or none. The impact of social isolation on an individuals physical health has been estimated to be equal to that of smoking.
In answer to the question, “How often do you spend time with a close, personal friend?” there was an almost even spread from more than once a week to less than once a month. Unfortunately this means that over 50% of respondents are spending time with friends only twice a month or less.
In answer to the question, “How often do you engage in social activities NOT related to work or career?” again we see an almost even spread from more than once per week to less than once per month. Again this is not good news as it indicates that only about 50% of us engage in social activities twice or more per month. Over one in four people reported socializing only once per month or less.
Up to its peak during the early 1960’s, the average person belonged to at least one or two civic groups, now the average person belongs to none. Joining one organized group that meets regularly will cut the probability of an individual dying in the next year in half. Joining two groups cuts it to one quarter.
In answer to the question, “How many NEW close, personal friends have you made in the past twelve months?” 53% of the respondents answered none and a further 23% answered one. This is the most telling and troubling figure of the survey because this is the future.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that no matter what our age, over time all social circles suffer from attrition. Our friends move to another city, get married or divorced, or pass away. If we are not making new friends, our social circle slowly diminishes. Since this happens very slowly, few people are aware it is happening. If we have not made at least one new close, personal friend in the past year, our social wellness is likely overall on the decline.
The overall picture painted by the above figures is one of poor and declining social health in a large number of Victoria residents. The cost in human suffering and the financial costs incurred at all levels of government is high. The government has gone to great lengths to stamp out cigarette smoking because of such costs. If the health impact of social isolation is equal to that of smoking and we have approximately three times the number of socially isolated individuals in Victoria than we do smokers then there is a case to be made for some attention to be paid to this issue. In addition, no other lifestyle change has as much positive impact as improving social wellness because it improves not only physical health but mental and even material health as well.
Social Wellness is important to us as individuals and as members of our communities because it effects our individual physical and mental health and thus the overall health of our neighborhoods. On both levels it effects our financial health and our ability to effect change or to effectively deal with challenges. The social health of its citizens is important to governments because health costs are one of its largest expenses. A socially healthy citizenry is a key ingredient of democracy and will be essential in our ability to deal effectively with the challenges of the coming decades.
For complete results of the survey visit http://socialcircles.ca/survey/