Personal Connections

We’re heartened to find loneliness rates are lower than expected. But to build stronger communities we must look closer at why some of us feel less connected.

What we asked

Personal connections bring meaning to our lives. Our survey explored the state of our personal relationships, and searched for insights into who feels connected and how residents can develop meaningful relationships with each other.

In 2012, our survey revealed that one-quarter of respondents reported spending more time alone than they would like. But is finding yourself alone the same as feeling lonely? In 2017, we asked people to tell us more about how often they feel lonely, and how satisfied they feel with the amount of time they spend alone.

We were curious if the perception that it is difficult to make new friends in Metro Vancouver had shifted over time, and wanted to know more about the obstacles people identify when building friendships. We also wanted to better understand the strength of our existing connections, and what people think would make it easier to make new friends.

In an age of digital connections, we were curious what role technology plays in our ability to form deeper connections. We asked people to tell us how they prefer to connect with each other, and if they feel spending too much time with technology takes them away from in-person relationships.

What we heard

Fewer than one-in-five Metro Vancouver residents experience loneliness often, and the overwhelming majority have someone to depend on.

Overall, people report much lower rates of loneliness than expected – only 14% report feeling lonely ‘often or ‘almost always’. The results for spending time alone are similar. The majority of people (57%) feel they are spending the amount of time alone they would like, while 18% would actually prefer to spend time alone more often.

Metro Vancouver can still be a difficult place to make new friends, but an overwhelming majority have someone to depend on.

While 44% of people report that making new friends is easy, half (50%) find it difficult. An overwhelming majority of Metro Vancouver residents – 91% – agree that there are people they can depend on to help them. In addition, 86% report that their close relationships provide a sense of emotional security and wellbeing.

Some residents are more likely to experience weaker social connections, particularly younger people, those living in low-income households, and those who are not employed.

Compared to an average loneliness rate of 14% among all Metro Vancouver residents, 38% of people with household income of less than $20K report feeling lonely either ‘almost always’ or ‘often’, followed by 30% of people age 18 to 24, and 26% of people who are not employed. These groups are also more likely to report spending time alone more often than they would like, and those between the ages of 18 to 24 (60%) and 25 to 34 (67%) also report greater difficulty making new friends.

People tend to share the same barriers to making connections.

For residents of Metro Vancouver, the most common obstacles to getting together with friends include work or school obligations (48%), not having enough time (40%), family obligations (32%), being too far away (32%), personal finances (20%), and feeling overwhelmed or stressed (18%). These obstacles are experienced more acutely among people age 18 to 24.

Five things people think would make it easier to make new friends include finding people with similar interests, more personal time, people being friendlier or more approachable, more community or common spaces, and having more financial resources.

Compared to all Metro Vancouver residents, younger people and those living in low-income households are more likely to select some of these top five over others.

Many people believe technology helps to increase their connections, but most still prefer to connect in person.

Half (50%) of all residents in Metro Vancouver feel that online technology increases their connections to others, while only 19% believe it decreases their connections. When selecting preferred ways to stay connected, 60% choose in-person, followed by 19% who prefer text messaging, 15% by phone, 14% by email, and 9% via social media.

What this means

We believe that meaningful personal connections are the primary building blocks of healthy people and strong, resilient communities.

We’re heartened to hear that fewer than one-in-five Metro Vancouver residents experience loneliness often.

Most residents in Metro Vancouver report feeling lonely only occasionally, or never. We’re also encouraged to find that the older residents we surveyed report the lowest levels of loneliness and find it easier to make new friends.

However, too many people are still experiencing more time alone than they would like.

We’re concerned that younger people and those in lower income households seem to experience greater social isolation. Our survey doesn’t tell us exactly why, but seems to suggest that work, school, and family obligations, transportation issues, financial constraints, and time pressures all play a role.

The millennial generation in the Lower Mainland is now larger than the Post War Boom generation (668,000 versus 578,000 residents), and this growing demographic represents our next generation of workers, families and community members. Ensuring both existing and new, younger and older residents have the opportunities to establish strong connections with their communities is essential to building stronger, healthier communities.

Andrew Ramlo, Executive Director, Urban Futures, and Vice President of Market Intelligence at Rennie Group.

Those experiencing weaker connections have clear ideas about how to make new friends, and are open to expanding their circle.

Most of us are looking for people who share the same interests, for ways to create more personal time, for a friendly approachable face, for more shared community spaces to connect in, and need sufficient financial resources to join in.

People still prefer connecting in-person to interacting via technology.

Our survey shows that residents of every demographic prefer to connect with each other in-person. Less than one-in-five feel they spend too much time with technology, and more than half use technology to connect with people and friends in the community.

Read more about ‘Personal Connections’ in Vancouver Foundation’s 2017 Connect & Engage Report.

download the full report