Social Isolation Again

by Kieran Healy on June 29, 2006

Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Matt Brashears’ “ASR Paper”: on changes in core discussion networks has been getting a lot of play in the blogs and media. As is often the case with research like this, the commentary doesn’t really do justice to the paper. The summaries tend to be superficial and a lot of the commentary raises questions that the paper addresses, or proposes explanations it controls for. But “I liked this piece”: from CBS’s Dick Meyer. He kicks around various ideas about the significance of the findings and their explanation in the generalizing mode you’d expect an Op-Ed commentator to adopt, but it’s also clear that he read and understood the paper. It’s probably the best journalistic discussion of the issue I’ve seen so far.



previously pre 06.29.06 at 2:11 pm

Now someone get out there and do a truly longitudinal study that would give us some data on how one’s social confidants and acquaintances change over time.

The ASR snapshot was excellent partly because it opens doors for a whole range of useful supplementary research.


Martin James 06.29.06 at 2:34 pm

Are number of siblings and number of non-family confidants positively correlated?

I guess what my mom said in 1980’s about all those Sony walkmans leading to social isolation must have been right after all.


Gorkle 06.29.06 at 2:51 pm

I’ve never been a fan of network research though I don’t discount the significance of social ties. And I hope this paper doesn’t lead to a rehash of the bowling alone idea. But I wonder if the research measures what we think it does.

This will definitely be a boon to the sex-doll industry.


dick meyer 06.29.06 at 5:14 pm

What would be so wrong with a rehash of the bowling alone idea in the light of this study? Seems like an important new lelement in the mix to me.


lurker 06.30.06 at 4:34 am

Interesting study. But I do not find a very important aspect mentioned. Litigation. Any social interaction requires an amount of trust and more importantly a freedom to be wrong. Especially with someone to whom one confides.

One can’t say “Nice set of racks!” to a colleague about a third person, without risking being hauled up for sexual harrasment in a court of law. Same thing with road accidents should one be at fault or with most other day to day activities.

Perhaps that is why non-family confidants have gone down in number. The penalty for being outed is very high. And the chance of getting outed is higher with non-family.


eweininger 06.30.06 at 9:58 am

I have to assume that the authors of the ASR paper are holding off on the really fun stuff for a follow-up paper. To get a real reaction to these network measures, someone needs to examine whether and how well they correlate with the gazillion attitudinal variables in the GSS–e.g. racial and religious views, political opinions, to say nothing of things like the “trust in government/schools/unions, etc” suite of questions. The data aren’t longitudinal, but so what–imagine the play that a finding along the lines of “isolates are less trusting in government/schools/unions, etc.” would get, in light of the already reported “increase in isolation” result.


Baptiste 07.02.06 at 7:01 am

The NYT has an article today :
The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelie :

There is a new installment in the annals of loneliness. Americans are not only lacking in bowling partners, now they’re lacking in people to tell their deepest, darkest secrets. They’ve hunkered down even more, their inner circle often contracting until it includes only family, only a spouse or, at worst, no one.

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