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Where Social Distancing Hits Residents the Hardest

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Social distancing, which is said to help stop the spread of viral diseases like COVID-19, is the simple voluntary act of people staying away from each other. As millions of Americans shelter in place, we realize just how much we take for granted, like checking out a new book at the local library or worshipping together on Sundays. Many of these activities are off-limits as people band together to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Residents of some places may have a more difficult time coping with social distancing than others. Researchers analyzed the 2018 American Time Use survey to determine where people are most social and may now be the loneliest today.

Key findings
Rhode Islanders rank no. 1 for most time spent socializing
Idaho, New Hampshire and Wyoming are also exceptionally social
The loneliest place in the U.S. is Washington, D.C.
Other places with less social residents include Alaska and New Mexico
Social distancing and the American Time Use survey
Methodology

Key findings

  • Even before social distancing was put into place, the percentage of people reporting they socialize and communicate for leisure was down in the U.S. In 2008, nearly 39% of Americans reported socializing and communicating as a leisure activity, while just 35% did in 2018. That’s a decline of roughly 10% over the 10-year period. For the 35% who socialized for leisure in 2018, the average amount of time spent socializing per day has held constant at 1.83 hours from 2008 to 2018. Though over that period, the figure did peak at 2 hours in 2012.
  • The overall amount of time spent socializing and communicating has also decreased. The average person spent about 43 minutes between socializing and communicating per day in 2008. That figure is down around 12% to 38 minutes per day in recent years.
  • Rhode Island is the most social place in America. Rhode Islanders spend 205 minutes per day in social situations, according to our analysis of Time Use data. In particular, they spend a lot of time caring for and helping non-household members, compared with other areas. Idaho is the runner-up in terms of socialization, with an estimated 159 minutes per day in social situations for residents.
  • New Hampshire came in third with 153 minutes of potential nonwork social time per day. In terms of pure socializing for fun, New Hampshire residents rack up an impressive 68 minutes per day.
  • At the bottom of the list are Washington, D.C. (50th), Alaska (49th) and New Mexico (48th). Washington D.C. in particular stood out with just 88 minutes of nonwork social time per day. Residents of the nation’s capital are also known to work long hours, so that may be where residents are getting their social time in.

Rhode Islanders rank no. 1 for most time spent socializing

People who live in Rhode Island spend more than three hours (205 minutes) per day participating in a rich assortment of social tasks, from sports/recreation (35 minutes) to caring for their fellow Rhode Islanders (52 minutes per day). Notably, these activities require human interaction, which puts Rhode Island residents at odds with the social distancing guidelines.

Rhode Island is also the clear winner when it comes to how much nonwork time is spent socializing for fun. Residents of the Ocean State spent more time socializing for leisure than any other place at 78 minutes per day, on average. That’s 10 minutes more than New Hampshire, which is the runner-up (68 minutes).

Idaho, New Hampshire and Wyoming are also exceptionally social

Looking at the data, there’s a pretty clear trend: Residents of Western states and New England tend to be more social than the rest of the country. Eight of the top 10 states spend more than 140 minutes socializing outside of work every day.

Some of the most social Americans are also the most dedicated within their communities. Vermont (No. 7) and Utah (No. 6) residents spend the most time volunteering of any other place, at more than 120 minutes per week.

People who live in these places might have a difficult time with social distancing:

The loneliest place in the U.S. is Washington, D.C.

Residents of the District of Columbia spend just under 90 minutes socializing outside of work, according to our study. There might actually be a reason for that: residents of D.C. tend to work more than Americans as a whole. Plus, D.C. residents tend to be younger, suggesting that there are more working-age adults.

People who live in Washington, D.C., spend little time doing social activities outside of work. They spend just 22 minutes on average socializing for fun, and they spend 23 minutes taking care of people within their own household.

Other places with less social residents include Alaska and New Mexico

In regards to the loneliest places, there isn’t a clear trend of where they’re located. It doesn’t come as a complete surprise that Alaska is near the bottom of the list, however. It’s consistently ranked as the state with the lowest population density in every census since 1910. New Mexico also ranks near the bottom of the pack for population density, coming in at No. 48 in the 2010 U.S. Census.

Interestingly enough, though, D.C. has the highest population density of any area. It might be an exception to the rule: Just because you’re in close proximity to your neighbors doesn’t mean you’re socializing with them.

Each of the least social places saw its residents participating in less than 120 minutes of nonwork related social activities per day. See the breakdown of some of the least social places in America (where social distancing might not take that much effort after all):

Social distancing and the American Time Use survey

The American Time Use survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) determines what Americans’ day-to-day lives look like. It analyzes work-related, household and leisure activities alike, from attending social events to participating in sports. In the time of social distancing, many Americans are reflecting back to when we took such activities for granted.

The 2018 survey found that workers spent more waking time at the office than they did at home ー 7.9 hours compared with 2.9 hours. Today, as some companies are telling their employees to work remote, workers are turning their leisure spaces into workspaces. Many people who are working from home for the first time have to reconcile with the blurred lines that working from home creates.

Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t have the ability to work from home: Nurses and caregivers, restaurant staff and police officers are just a few examples. Just about 29% of workers had the ability to work from home as of 2018, according to BLS data, although it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that even more Americans will work from home to avoid community spread of the coronavirus. Those who cannot, unfortunately, are liable to take a hard hit in their take-home pay.

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Methodology

To find the most social places in America, LendingTree researchers gathered data for seven metrics from the 2018 American Time Use survey. Specifically, we looked at time spent on phone calls, mail and email; socializing and communicating; sports exercise and recreation; religious and spiritual activities; volunteering; caring for and helping household members and caring for and helping non-household members. We then added up the average amount of time spent doing each activity per day. This gave us the average amount of time a person in each place spent in social situations per day. We ranked the places from highest to lowest based on this figure.

 

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