Reason for Ranking
Poor family support, minimal contact with others, and limited involvement in community life are associated with increased morbidity and early mortality. A 2001 study found that the magnitude of health risk associated with social isolation is similar to the risk of cigarette smoking. Furthermore, social support networks have been identified as powerful predictors of health behaviors, suggesting that individuals without a strong social network are less likely to make healthy lifestyle choices than individuals with a strong network. A study that compared Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data on health status to questions from the General Social Survey found that people living in areas with high levels of social trust are less likely to rate their health status as fair or poor than people living in areas with low levels of social trust. Researchers have argued that social trust is enhanced when people belong to voluntary groups and organizations because people who belong to such groups tend to trust others who belong to the same group.
Measurement Strengths and Limitations
Social associations is an extensive and comprehensive measure representing social isolation and features of social capital; organizations included in this measure directly enable community interaction.
This indicator, however, does not account for social support that individuals receive from less structured relationships (such as family relationships or close friendships), and it does not account for perceived support. For instance, an individual can be a member of numerous associations, but feel they receive no social support from those organizations.