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January/February 2020 - How does neighbourhood identification affect feelings of belonging and trust?

Introduction

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Over January and February Relationships Australia collaborated with the Australian National University to conduct a survey investigating people’s feelings towards their neighbours and neighbourhoods. The full results of this survey will be out later this year. In the meantime, the Relationships Australia team has provided a preliminary analysis ahead of Neighbour Day 2020 which will be held on Sunday March 29. These findings suggest that while people live in relatively trusting and helpful neighbourhoods, ‘close-knit’, socially connected neighbourhoods are less common.

Previous research has found…

  • Our 2018 Neighbour Day report conducted by the Swinburne University of Technology found that Neighbour day can lead to continued interactions after the event, increasing neighbourhood trust and ultimately, perceptions of neighbourhood safety. This often meant people were more willing to offer support to one another (Long & Lim 2018).
  • Our 2019 report conducted by the Australian National university found that people who hosted Neighbour Day events had an increased sense of identification with their neighbourhood, an increased sense of belonging and perceived their neighbourhood environment more positively (Cruwys, Fong, Robinson & Mance 2019).

Results

2110 people respondent to the Relationships Australia January/February survey. A majority of the respondents identified as women (73%), aged between 30-49 (Figure 1). As for previous surveys, the demographic profile of survey respondents is consistent with our experience of the groups of people that would be accessing the Relationships Australia website.

Although only 52% of the respondents felt in some way similar to their neighbours (Figure 2), 74% of respondents agreed that they identify with their neighbours (Figure 3). While both of these questions represented perceptions of one’s social identity within their neighbourhood, the concepts are slightly different. Identity refers to our sense of self, influenced by a series of identifying traits. Alternatively, similarity refers to how we make sense of the world, asking ourselves things like ‘how am I the same as this thing/person, how am I different?’. Therefore, recognising similarity relies on respondents acknowledging all the ways in which you feel the same as your neighbours. Alternatively, identification only requires recognition of some similar identifying traits. These could be fulfilled by the logistical aspects of neighbourhoods, like proximity and shared socioeconomic status.

Similarly, while 47% of respondents felt they did not live in a close-knit neighbourhood, 67% felt their neighbours were willing to help others in their neighbourhood. Further, 65% said they trust their neighbours. This suggests that while many may not gather socially with their neighbours (in a way that could be considered ‘close-knit’), the majority trust their neighbours and could seek help from them if they needed to.

Neighbour Day, an annual celebration of community coordinated by Relationships Australia, encourages people to create social connections within their community. There is significant evidence to suggest that social connections are an antidote to loneliness, where loneliness is sometimes understood as a lack of social relationships (Heinrich and Gullone 2006). In Relationships Australia’s 2018 work on loneliness, which examined the relationship between loneliness and individual characteristics, we found that poor relationships are heavily associated with loneliness (Mance 2018).

While social connections and engagement can act as a ‘buffer’ to loneliness, little is known about the causal links between our relationships and our emotional health – do people’s social connections reduce loneliness or is loneliness a barrier to creating social connections? Research indicates that perhaps both are true. Neighbour Day provides people with the opportunity to reach out to those in their community with whom they have not yet had an opportunity to create social connections.

The high prevalence of neighbourhood social identity, trust and helpfulness demonstrated in this survey is promising. It suggests that, for many respondents, the types of close-knit, enduring social connections which have the power to diminish feelings of loneliness are possible and may just require a reason to reach out. Perhaps this Neighbour Day is your opportunity to connect with those in your community.

For more information please go to the Neighbour Day website.

 

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