People enjoy constructive relationships with others in their families, whānau, communities, iwi and workplaces. Families and communities support and nurture those in need of care. New Zealand is an inclusive society where people are able to access information and support.
Social connectedness refers to the relationships people have with others and the benefits these relationships can bring to the individual as well as to society.
It includes relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours, as well as connections people make through paid work, sport and other leisure activities, or through voluntary work or community service.
These relationships and connections can be a source of enjoyment and support. They help people to feel they belong and have a part to play in society.102 People who feel socially connected also contribute towards building communities and society. They help to create what is sometimes called “social capital”, the networks that help society to function effectively.
Several studies have demonstrated links between social connectedness and the performance of the economy and positive outcomes for individual health and wellbeing.103 A recent large study confirmed that people with more friends and connections are generally happier, healthier and better off, and that happiness spreads through social networks. However, the study also found that social networks can influence health behaviours both negatively and positively; for example, starting and stopping smoking.104
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 social networks that help improve their lives.
Six indicators are used to measure social connectedness in New Zealand. These are: telephone and internet access in the home, contact with family and friends, contact between young people and their parents, trust in others, loneliness, and voluntary work.
Both the telephone and the internet increase people’s ability to keep in touch with family and friends, and to work or conduct their business from home. The internet in particular is becoming an increasingly important means of accessing information and applying for services, as well as a popular choice for making bookings for entertainment and travel. Through social media on the internet, people can considerably expand their social networks. However, new communications technology can also be used for antisocial purposes.
For most people, social networks centre on family and friends. The second indicator is the proportion of people aged 15 years and over who feel the amount of contact they have with friends and family who don’t live with them is “about right”. This new indicator uses data from the 2008 New Zealand General Social Survey. It replaces the previous indicator on regular contact with family and friends, which was based on the 2004 New Zealand Living Standards Survey.
The third indicator is also about contact with family: the proportion of young people of secondary school age who report getting enough time each week with their parents.
Trust in others, the fourth indicator, measures the extent to which people expect others to act fairly and honestly towards them. High levels of trust enhance wellbeing by facilitating co-operative behaviour among people who otherwise do not know each other.
The fifth indicator measures levels of loneliness. Feelings of isolation and loneliness undermine overall wellbeing and can be detrimental to people’s physical and emotional health, resulting in stress, anxiety or depression.
The final indicator is about voluntary work done for organisations or groups. Volunteering can help to build networks of trust and mutual support that sustain people through difficult times and reinforce social cohesion.