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Why Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Posted on by Brandon Klein

Few Americans today say they know their neighbors’ names, and far fewer report interacting with them on a daily basis. Pulling data from the General Social Survey, economist Joe Cortright wrote in a recent City Observatory report that only about 20 percent of Americans spent time regularly with the people living next to them. A third said they’ve never interacted with their neighbors. That’s a significant decline from four decades ago, when a third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only a quarter reported no interaction at all.

In a separate 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, researchers found that 43 percent of Americans know most or all of their neighbors. But nearly a third said they know none by name.

“There used to be this necessity to reach out and build bonds with people who lived nearby,” says Marc Dunkelman, a public policy fellow at Brown University who studied the shift in American communities for his 2014 book The Vanishing Neighbor. That was particularly true in the 1920s through the 1960s, when social tension ran high due to issues like the Great Depression and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“There was this sort of cohort effect, in which people … were more inclined in many cases to find security that existed in neighborhoods,” he says. “They depended on one another much more.”