Social connectedness refers to the relationships people have with others.
Social connectedness is integral to wellbeing. People are defined by their social roles, whether as partners, parents, children, friends, caregivers, team-mates, staff or employers, or myriad other roles. Relationships give people support, happiness, contentment and a sense they belong and have a role to play in society. 87 They mean people can call on help during hard times.
Social connectedness also refers to people joining to achieve shared goals which benefit each other and society as a whole - ranging from working together as part of business and paid employment to contributing to their communities through voluntary groups.
One of the most important aspects of social connectedness is the relationship people have with a spouse or partner. Studies have consistently found that having a partner contributes to a person's reported level of wellbeing.88
Several studies have demonstrated links between social connectedness and the performance of the economy as well as positive outcomes for individual health and wellbeing.89
Social connectedness is fostered when family relationships are positive, and when people have the skills and opportunities to make friends and to interact constructively with others. Good health, employment, and feeling safe and secure all increase people's chances of developing positive relationships.
There can be many barriers to social connectedness. The tendency to make connections outside the family varies between cultures and communities, and factors such as language differences, high levels of inequality, and tensions between ethnic groups can create barriers between people.
Five indicators are used to measure New Zealand's levels of social connectedness. Together, the five indicators used here measure opportunities for and actual levels of connection between people, both within people's immediate social groups and with the wider community. The indicators are: access to the internet, regular contact with family/friends, trust in others, proportion of the population experiencing loneliness, and contact between young people and their parents.
Access to the internet is significant because it allows people to keep in touch without seeing each other face to face. This means social connectedness can be maintained even when people are in different cities or even different countries. It also means new social networks can be opened up between people who may never have met, crossing geographical boundaries.
For the vast majority of people, social networks centre on family and friends. The second indicator measures the proportion of people who take part in family activities and have family or friends over for a meal at least once a month.
Trust in others, the third indicator, measures the extent to which people expect others to act fairly towards them. High levels of trust enhance wellbeing by facilitating co-operative behaviour among people who otherwise do not know each other. Trust also enhances people's ability to develop positive relationships with others.
Levels of loneliness are measured in the fourth indicator. Feelings of loneliness can not only be detrimental to people's emotional health, but their physical health also, resulting in adverse health problems including stress, anxiety or depression.
The final indicator, the proportion of young people who report getting enough time each week with their parents, is a measure of the extent to which people in need of care and nurturing receive that support.