Is the Concept of Neighborliness a Thing of the Past?

Do you trust your neighbors? Results of a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center indicate that our level of neighborly trust is pretty depressing. Nearly half (48 percent) of the Pew survey respondents reported that they either don’t trust any of their neighbors or trust only a few.

Sadly, these results may have a link to safety concerns. As Suzanne De Vita posts on RISMedia’s Housecall, fewer than 20 percent of people interviewed for the Pew survey said they didn’t feel “at all” safe from crime walking in their neighborhoods at night but actually trusted the people next door. And, perhaps not surprisingly, those in rural areas were more apt to feel safer and trust their neighbors than urban dwellers.

Although most adults believe it’s important for neighbors to look out for each other, today’s neighborhoods are not as tightly knit as they were in the 1940s and ’50s, when neighbors knew one another well. In a related Pew survey, 54 percent of respondents said that they do not hold regular social gatherings with their neighbors. Indeed, today, people are more apt to recognize their neighbors’ cars and pets than the neighboring adults or their kids.

According to social scientists, the way we react and behave toward each other is less civil when trust is low, which is a vicious circle, as this only exacerbates the trust deficit. The problem is fixable, though; neighbors can rebuild community and strengthen civic life (perhaps by harnessing technology to widen their circle of acquaintances) and become more civically involved.