Mounting evidence consistently demonstrates the relationship between social engagement and higher levels of physical, mental, and cognitive functioning and its association with longer life spans. By contrast, socially isolated individuals face health risks comparable to those of smokers. Their mortality risk is twice that of obese individuals. Over the past 50 years, Americans’ living patterns have changed dramatically. In 1970, a married couple with young children represented the most common living arrangement. Forty percent of households reflected this “traditional” family constellation. By 2014, fewer than 20 percent of households were comprised of this traditional mix. Rather, 58 percent of households today are occupied by unmarried adults or couples without children. The social engagement index shown below summarizes nine metrics characterizing two types of activities critical to social engagement: meaningful relationships and group involvement.
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1. Interactions with family
2. Family support
3. Interactions with friends
4. Friend support
5. Meaningful interactions with spouse/partner
6. Neighbor contact
8. Working for pay
9. Religious and community activities [/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]
Compared to their counterparts 20 years ago, Baby Boomers are less socially engaged.
Having a college degree helps maintain levels of social engagement across age cohorts.
With the exception of 35-44 year olds, engagement in communities – which can provide physically-accessible and helpful relationships – has declined across age cohorts.
Longer lives mean that marriages survive as well. Fifty-three percent of Americans over 75 are married, up from 42 percent in 2003