The lone house with the white picket fence has become an essential part of the American dream and a desire for many others around the world. Today though, with growing social isolation and many lacking a sense of community, some are turning toward a different model, cohousing. Americans especially value privacy and space. To many, the idea at first glance seems less than appealing.
But what’s becoming increasingly clear is the negative consequences of social isolation, which is often a side effect of the current model. At the 2017 annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD of Brigham Young University, presented worrisome findings. She and colleagues found that social isolation had a greater impact on public health than many other factors, including obesity.
No matter how ruggedly individualistic we may appear on the outside, human contact and connectedness are essential needs. Without them, we suffer immeasurably. Despite this, the number of socially isolated Americans has doubled since the 1980s, from 20-40% in just a few decades.
Americans today and those in other societies are living alone more and more, marrying less, and having fewer children. A recent AARP study estimates that 42.6 million US adults over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness. Lots of them also experience mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, and problems such as poor sleep, higher stress hormone levels, and earlier cognitive decline.
The current living model idolized worldwide might increase social isolation and loneliness. Getty Images.
Dr. Lunstad’s study contained dual meta-analyses covering 148 studies and 300,000 participants. The second analysis included people from North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia. Researchers found that those who were isolated had a 50% higher chance of early death. Other studies say the isolated run three times the risk of premature mortality.
Some nations around the world are saying that they’re staring down a loneliness epidemic. One result has been a small but growing movement toward cohousing. Here, privacy is balanced with social interaction. Admittedly, it isn’t for everyone. But those who are living this way seem to be reaping some astonishing benefits.
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