Written by Samar Arshad
In this post-Industrial Revolution society, people have grown accustomed to urban lifestyles and are increasingly living alone. Despite the benefits a person may experience by having their own space to themselves, a study conducted by Danish researchers found that men who lived alone had a 23% increased risk of dying prematurely, and a 36% risk of cardiovascular related death . Notably, it was found that those of a lower socioeconomic status who lived alone had a much higher risk of death than those in the highest socioeconomic group. The increasing number of people living like this in “social isolation,” as it is commonly termed, is regarded as a global issue that is negatively impacting the lives of many . This brings up the question: in an increasing globalized society in which people are becoming more and more isolated from social interactions, how can we minimize the risk of fatality such a lifestyle imposes?
It has been found that most people who live alone reside in large, urban cities . In fact, most single households are found in hubs such as Washington D.C. and Manhattan, New York. But why has such a phenomenon become so prevalent within recent years? While the answer is still unclear, the economic recession and breakdown of traditional familial structure have been associated with social isolation . The recent economic recession has placed more men into a situation where they are living alone. Specifically, the conventional, self-sufficient male wage earner is not as strong as he once was . This accounts for why less than half of men between 30 and 34 that are earning less than $40,000 a year are married. As the cost of living keeps increasing, it is more likely that someone making the bare minimum would prefer to spend their money only on themselves, rather than share it with a partner.
So, could such increasing solitude have long-term health consequences? To look deeper into this issue, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford School of Medicine, and University of California, San Francisco conducted a study to examine the link between social isolation and mortality in the U.S. . In doing so, the researchers’ main objective was to compare the risk of death associated with social isolation and traditional clinical risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. Though it is contended that the link between social isolation and risk of mortality is harder to see in those with preexisting conditions, a relationship exists nonetheless. Using the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers found that social isolation was a predictor of mortality on the same level as traditional risk factors, thus indicating how influential our social interactions are in our long-term health . In addition, one study conducted in the U.K. found that social isolation puts people at greater risk of heart disease and stroke . In addition, it was found that people who have a history of heart disease and live in social isolation are at an increased risk of mortality compared to those who have strong social interactions in their daily lives .
But how can living a perpetually isolated life put one’s risk of death at the same level as smoking and obesity? Christian Hakulinen, a professor of psychology and logopedics at the University of Helsinki in Finland, revealed that the social support one gets from significant others or people facing similar situations proves to be good for one’s health in the long run . This is because as humans, we are an inherently social species. Social networks--families, communities and tribes--have been sustaining the human race thus far, so it is no wonder that we have developed certain behaviors that make us more adept to social interactions, and that it feels alien to most of us to not interact with others on a daily basis . As such, given that we have been biologically and psychosocially programmed to require social networks, it makes sense that the foreign nature of social isolation - and the stress it causes - can wreak havoc on our overall health.
So how can we minimize social isolation in an increasing globalized, secluded society? While most studies have proposed potential solutions for the senior-aged demographic, little has been done to resolve the growing social isolation epidemic that is affecting millennials and the generations to follow. Though it may be hard to combat financial issues that are placing more people into a position where they have no choice but to live alone, a potential solution could be to work with employers to facilitate programs that promote more social interactions between employees. Such programs could include spaces where employees can grab coffee, vent to one another about life’s troubles, and potentially allow them to create new social networks for themselves outside of the office. If we start at the source of people’s social isolation--which for many is their jobs and/or financial status--it is possible that people may feel less alone in an increasingly lonely world.
Edited by Gauri Ajith
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