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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Home alone

Americans are socializing a lot less, staying home alone a lot more, writes economist Bryce Ward in the Washington Post.

That's true for all ages, but the change is especially dramatic for teenagers, he writes. "Relative to 2010-2013, the average American teenager spent approximately 11 fewer hours with friends each week in 2021 (a 64 percent decline) and 12 additional hours alone (a 48 percent increase)."

"The covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on our social lives," writes Ward, but the trend started years before "safer at home." Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, which lamented the decline of clubs, bowling leagues, civic groups and other communal activities, came out in 2000.

According to the Census Bureau’s American Time Use Survey, the amount of time the average American spent with friends was stable, at 6½ hours per week, between 2010 and 2013. Then, in 2014, time spent with friends began to decline.
By 2019, the average American was spending only four hours per week with friends (a sharp, 37 percent decline from five years before). Social media, political polarization and new technologies all played a role in the drop. (It is notable that market penetration for smartphones crossed 50 percent in 2014.)

Covid made it worse, of course. "During the pandemic, time with friends fell further — in 2021, the average American spent only two hours and 45 minutes a week with close friends (a 58 percent decline relative to 2010-2013)."

The average American didn't increase time time with family members, he writes. "Instead, they chose to be alone."

Too much "me time" isn't healthy, Ward worries. It may contribute to the rise in depression and anxiety, especially among adolescents.

People started spending more time with friends in 2021, after the vaccine became available, he writes, but socializing remains below the 2019 level.

In a Pew survey conducted in August, 35 percent said "participating in large gatherings, going out and socializing in-person have become less important since the pandemic," while 21 percent said those things are more important.

We had dinner with a friend last night, and we're having dinner with two couples we haven't seen since before the pandemic (I think) this evening. We are thrilled to reconnect. Then we've got a pre-Christmas family gathering scheduled next weekend.

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Dec 05, 2022

As Robert Putnam wrote 22 years ago, diversity is why people have lost social capital and want to be alone. When it is impossible to not make a gaffe when dealing with so many cultures and groups, why not just avoid them or only go to places where everyone is treated the same.

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