***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** ---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2006 18:30:00 -0700 (MST) From: Miller McPherson <[log in to unmask]> To: Andrew Cleary <[log in to unmask]> Cc: [log in to unmask] Subject: Re: Social Isolation- Best report. A link to the original paper is at: http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/2006/06/socialisolation.html Miller On Fri, 30 Jun 2006, Andrew Cleary wrote: > ***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** > > Wow, if that scare-mongering extrapolation is the "best", I'm afraid of > what the *worst* is... or by "best", did you mean "most dramatic misuse > of the original study?" (seriously: I'm not sure what you meant by > "best"). I have a hard time with a journalist telling people how they > should feel about the news the journalist is reporting (e.g. "it should > scare you"). > > The number of ways in which I disagree with Meyer's conclusions and > methods of drawing and reporting them are too numerous to list here. I > am glad that the authors of the study seem to be doing their best (as > they have reported on this list) to try to undo some of the damage that > these sensationalistic exaggerations have been doing, though I'll say > (having not read the original report) that if Meyer is accurate in > reporting that it said some of these things - "The number of people who > have someone to talk to about matters that are important to them has > declined dramatically we have gone from a quarter of the American > population being isolated to almost half of the populations falling > into that category," - then the authors brought some of this on > themselves by editorializing unnecessarily (here, choosing to define > "isolation" in terms of "reported number of confidants" when it isn't at > all clear that that is the best or even a good definition of > "isolation"), and that's leaving aside deeper issues such as whether > having less confidants might have a *positive* causal factor, e.g. > perhaps when people are happier overall they don't have as many problems > *requiring* confidants. > > Andy > > > -----Original Message----- > > From: Social Networks Discussion Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] > On > > Behalf Of Matthew E. Brashears > > Sent: Friday, June 30, 2006 4:26 PM > > To: [log in to unmask] > > Subject: Social Isolation- Best report. > > > > ***** To join INSNA, visit http://www.insna.org ***** > > > > I think this is probably the best article on the Social Isolation > paper > > I've > > seen yet: > > > > > > > http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/06/28/opinion/meyer/printable1762234 > .s > > html > > > > Go to CBSNews.com Home > > The Lonely States Of America > > WASHINGTON, June 29, 2006(CBS) This commentary was written by > > CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer. > > > > > > The American Sociological Review may have just published the social > health > > equivalent of the 1964 Surgeon General's report that declared smoking > > causes cancer. The unpleasant but long suspected discovery in this > case is > > that social isolation in America has grown dramatically in the past 20 > > years. > > > > Some things are uncomfortable to know. We don't like knowing the earth > is > > getting hotter; some people choose not to believe it. In 1964, about > half > > of all adults smoked and they did not like knowing the habit caused > > cancer; some people chose not to believe it and some people still > don't. > > The scientific evidence about smoking and cancer existed long before > Jan. > > 11, 1964, but when the famous report was issued that day, people > started > > believing it. > > > > I expect something quieter and more eggheaded but quite similar will > > happen with an academic paper with the vanilla title, "Social > Isolation in > > America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades." The > > authors, Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Matthew Brashears, > > sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona, have no such wild > > pretensions, but I think they've documented an enormous, stunning > social > > change so clearly that it will alter the way we look at social and > > political life. It should. > > > > And it should scare you. > > > > The authors set out to empirically describe how socially connected > > Americans are by asking them questions like, "Who are the peoplewith > whom > > you discussed matters important to you?" They did this as part of the > > General Social Survey, the Rolls Royce of face-to-face social surveys > that > > has been conducted almost every year since 1972. In 2004, they > precisely > > replicated questions about social networks that had not been asked > since > > 1985. > > > > Because the findings are so stark and clear, and come with no > linguistic > > and philosophic adornment, I'll let the numbers speak for themselves > in > > blunt bullet points: > > > > # From 1985 to 2004, "the number of people saying there is no one with > > whom they discuss important matters nearly tripled." Now, 24.6 percent > > report they have no confidants, family or non-family that's one in > four > > Americans. Another 19.6 percent say they have just one confidant. That > > means 43 percent of Americans have either no confidants or just one, a > > slice that has doubled since 1985. > > > > # More than half, 53.4 percent, do not have any confidants who aren't > > family. In 1985, 80 percent had at least one confidant who was not > family; > > now only 57.2 percent do. > > > > # The average size of Americans' social networks decreased by a third > > between 1985 and 2004, from 2.94 to 2.08; basically this means the > loss of > > one confidant. > > > > # The kinds of relationships that decreased the most in providing > > important contacts were neighbors and co-members of groups or > voluntary > > associations (as opposed to spouse, sibling, parent, co-worker, etc.) > > > > # Women have more family in their networks than men, as they did in > 1985. > > But then they had fewer non-kin close relationships than men did. Now > > women have about the same number of confidants outside family as do > men. > > Unfortunately, that isn't because women have made more contacts > outside > > kin, but because men have fewer. > > > > # More education correlates with having larger social networks. > Non-whites > > and the elderly are populations with smaller networks. > > > > Don't let yourself be numbed by the numbers because they tell a > dramatic > > story even though there are no victims, tears or sound bites. > > > > The bottom line: "The number of people who have someone to talk to > about > > matters that are important to them has declined dramatically we have > gone > > from a quarter of the American population being isolated to almost > half > > of the populations falling into that category." > > > > Stop and think about that for a second. Almost half the people around > you > > have at most one person they feel they can talk to about what is most > > important to them. Seems like a pretty lousy social system we've got > going > > here, doesn't it? > > > > Does this cold statistical portrait comport with your own experience > of > > the world and the people you are acquainted with? My first gut answer > was > > "no." But when I thought about it harder, the answer changed. There > are > > people who I think are frighteningly isolated even in my company, my > small > > neighborhood, my extended family and the community based around my > kids' > > school and these are all social networks by definition. The most > > isolated, of course, I wouldn't even come across much. > > > > The authors were even more surprised at the findings and looked for > every > > possible reason why the results could be wrong. They explored whether > > people have different notions of the word "discuss" or "important" > than > > they did 20 years ago. They looked for technical problems in the > survey. > > But the news stayed bad. > > > > So what explains this seismic social thud? > > > > The paper eliminates a couple suspects. It is not caused by great > > geographic mobility the corporate nomad syndrome. It is not caused by > > employment rates. It does not correlate with increased television > > watching. Most importantly, it is not caused by the demographic facts > that > > the population is aging and more ethnically diverse; if it were, those > > trends would have been countered by the increased educational levels > since > > 1985, since education leads to larger networks. > > > > That means the answers will be deep and complicated. > > > > Though they are mostly into documenting not explaining, the authors do > put > > out a couple of hypotheses. The main culprits are work time and > commutes. > > Both have increased since 1985 and both take time away from families, > > friends and voluntary participation. As women entered the workforce in > > bulk, the total number of hours family members spent working outside > the > > home went way up. As people fled the cities, suburbs and exurbs boomed > and > > so did commute times. > > > > This especially affects "middle-aged, better-educated, higher-income > > families." As the paper points out, these are exactly the people who > build > > neighborhoods and volunteer groups and those are the social structures > > that have most atrophied in the past 20 years. > > > > The more speculative hypothesis is that perhaps new communications > > technologies have led to people forming wider, but weaker social ties > that > > are less dependent on geography. E-mail and cheap phone calling have > made > > it easier to stay in frequent, sometimes constant touch with lots of > > people, no matter where they are. > > > > These weak ties are different than the confidant ties that this study > > measures, but the authors are open to the idea that a network of > weaker > > ties can provide equally meaningful, but different, social support (a > view > > supported by a quantitative study done by two university of Toronto > > sociologists for the Pew Internet & American Life Project). But they > do > > point out the obvious: "some services and emotional support" do depend > on > > proximity. > > > > Certainly, it's hard to escape complaints about the busy-ness and > > time-stress of life these days; it's an obvious, bad problem. For most > > people I know, it is exacerbated by the technology that is meant to > make > > it easier for us to communicate and stay connected. Instead of feeling > in > > touch, many feel on a leash. Portable, gadget driven communication > doesn't > > count as soul-feeding bonding for many people I know, but is rather a > > cruel mockery. > > > > I do suspect that this study overlooks one simple contributing factor, > the > > decline of real geographic communities places where people grow up > where > > their parents grew up, where non-nuclear relatives live near by, where > > friendships and acquaintances go across generations. > > > > Explaining social isolation will be controversial, but not as > difficult as > > repairing it. > > > > In primitive and survival-dependent societies, social isolation was > > basically impossible. But modern societies have never been without > chronic > > existential worries about isolation and loneliness; it is one of the > > defining marks of modernity. Literary and philosophic examinations of > > American souls and social life began with the very first American > books, > > like Ben Franklin's autobiography. > > > > Looking at these issues empirically is a different matter. Social > > statistics aren't the stuff of teen angst, novels and high culture. > But > > the story they tell is just as disturbing and just as hard for society > to > > accept. Recent social science research, for example, about the decline > of > > civic engagement and community participation has been exceedingly > > controversial and contested. There are even larger objections to the > idea > > that "social science" can ever get a handle on these kinds of issues > in a > > way that is at all scientific. > > > > It is hard to believe and accept that we live in a society where one > > person in four feels they don't have someone to confide in. It's > > depressing and even somewhat terrifying. We can, of course, ignore it > all > > and choose to keep on smoking. > > > > > > Dick Meyer is the editorial director of CBSNews.com. > > > > E-mail questions, comments, complaints, arguments and ideas to > > Against the Grain. We will publish some of the interesting (and civil) > > ones, sometimes in edited form. > > > > > > By Dick Meyer > > MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. > > > > *********************** > > Matthew Brashears > > Graduate Student > > Department of Sociology > > University of Arizona > > > > "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." > > -Charles Darwin > > > > "The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in > higher > > esteem > > those who think alike than those who think differently." > > -Frederich Wilhelm Nietzsche > > *********************** > > > > _____________________________________________________________________ > > SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social > > network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send > > an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line > > UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message. > > _____________________________________________________________________ > SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social > network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send > an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line > UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message. > ******************************** * Miller McPherson * * Professor of Sociology ****** University of Arizona * [log in to unmask] * ******************************** * _____________________________________________________________________ SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social network researchers (http://www.insna.org). To unsubscribe, send an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message.