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The American Crisis of Social Connection

Updated: Mar 15

Recently, the Surgeon General declared loneliness and social isolation a public health crisis in the United States. This loss of social connection is occurring on numerous fronts, from shrinking average household sizes, falling participation in religious or other community groups, declining marriage rates and general shrinking of the size and diversity of social networks. Perception of crime in the United States, setting aside real trends in crime, has skyrocketed. 

The effects of social isolation can be devastating. Lacking social connection can raise the risk of premature death by an amount equal to smoking fifteen cigarettes per day. The effects of loneliness on workplace absenteeism and healthcare needs are estimated to run to over a hundred billion dollars yearly in the United States. 

But social isolation is not an individual malady: it's a social malaise. The loss of social connection weakens the cohesiveness of American society, which in turn causes individuals to be less willing to work together as communities to address political issues and less willing to support each other in times of crisis, like natural disasters. The rising acrimony and polarization in American politics is directly related to the shrinking of networks of social connection, as shrunken social networks mean fewer connections across political positions.

The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the importance of social connections. At a time when many Americans found themselves ripped out of their social networks just when they needed support the most, disparities in deaths and virus spread emerged in communities based on the level of social capital of residents. Unfortunately, the profoundly isolating experience of the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing trends of decline in social connection.

Technology has substantially contributed to this social disconnection. While the proliferation of the internet has opened up possibilities for virtual connections, technology can impede quality in-person interactions, increase social isolation and facilitate negative social experiences, like cyber-harassment. It seems inevitable that life will only become more intertwined with the digital, increasing the challenges Americans face in achieving fulfilling social lives. 

Confronting and reversing this falling apart of American society is vital. The choice is between a country of distrust, suspicion and loneliness, or a society of interdependence, trust and meaning. 

Some of the causes of this crisis are deeply rooted in the culture of the United States, which makes it a difficult challenge for government policy. While legislation on social media or building and promoting public spaces might help, it seems unlikely that such a deeply embedded cultural shift as the loss of American social connection can be easily resolved by governmental initiatives. At the same time, this means that this crisis is mostly a crisis of individual attitudes. If we as individuals all consciously chose to seek out and build new social connections, there would be no crisis. If we move through our lives seeking to connect with others, cutting across the usual boundaries of class, race, sex, etc., we have the power to patch up America.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Holt-Lunstad, Julianne. “The Potential Public Health Relevance of Social Isolation and Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, and Risk Factors.” Public Policy & Aging Report, vol. 27, no. 4, 2017, pp. 127–130,,

McCarthy, Justin. “Perceptions of Increased U.S. Crime at Highest since 1993.”, 13 Nov. 2020,

Office of the Surgeon General. Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation. 2023.


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