Measuring social isolation

There is a need to recognise the role of social isolation in people’s experience of poverty, and to find ways of constructing a basic internationally comparable indicator for it, according to a new working paper by researchers at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.

The paper presents a working definition of social isolation; emphasises the relevance of isolation in poverty analysis; and proposes indicators to measure social connectedness that could be incorporated into a multi-topic household survey.

Key points

  • Existing research in several fields provides solid ground for a common concept and indicators that measure specific aspects of social isolation – although the challenge of conceptualising and measuring social connectedness is 'daunting'.
  • A measure of social isolation should incorporate its internal characteristics (satisfaction with social relations, sense of relatedness, feeling of belonging to one’s own neighbourhood/village/community, loneliness, and trust).
  • There is also a need to explore data on the external characteristics of social connectedness (such as frequency of social contact, social network supports, and intensity of volunteering).
  • These indicators emphasise direct measures of, and stress the self-evaluation of, social connectedness.
  • Building on a wide body of research on aspects of social relations, the proposed indicators follow the guidelines of major initiatives to improve the measurement of human progress.
  • The indicators need to be included in large surveys alongside traditional socio-economic indicators, and in international contexts, in order to test both their validity and usefulness for poverty analysis.

Source: Diego Zavaleta, Kim Samuel and China Mills, Social Isolation: A Conceptual and Measurement Proposal, Working Paper 67, Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative

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