Neighbors in on Thomas St. SE, held a cookout after helping each other dig out after the Blizzard of 2011.
(USA TODAY) - Americans are a neighborly lot -- and increasingly so, according to a national study that finds 76% trust most or some of their neighbors, 44% talk to them frequently and 65% exchange favors.
Now in its third year, the Civic Life in America report, released today, asked about trust of neighbors for the first time. Of the 81,355 people 18 and older surveyed by telephone, 41% trust most neighbors and another 35% trust some; 9% don't trust anyone in their neighborhood while 16% say they trust them all.
"People certainly crave trust, and, in a cynical world, you will tend to more trust people within your tribe -- they would do what we would do," says Robert Hurley, a professor of management at Fordham University in New York. "Often in neighborhoods, we have a view that people are like us and are therefore trustworthy."
Hurley, author of the 2011 book, The Decision to Trust, did not participate in the research. He says trust has declined over the past 30 years in all industrialized democracies; he adds that humans "want more trust."
The survey also finds that interactions among neighbors have increased. Among those who said they talked with neighbors, (from less than once a month to every day) 87% said they did so in 2011, compared to 81% in 2009. Doing favors -- such as babysitting, house sitting, lending items or helping with shopping -- also rose from 56% in 2009 to 65%.
Such findings don't surprise Clay Grueber, 40, an insurance agent from Grand Rapids, Mich. He was not among those surveyed, but the married father of a 4-year-old says many neighbors have connected recently as a result of the website Nextdoor, a year-old private social network, based in San Francisco, that encourages neighborhood communication.
Now, doing favors for neighbors is routine, Grueber says. "We do house watches if we know people are going to be gone. We collect mail and get their newspapers," he says.
"Over the last 15 years particularly in America, we've had a number of destabilizing events -- 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and more recently Hurricane Sandy -- that leave people vulnerable," says Nextdoor co-founder and CEO Nirav Tolia. "They're craving connection. For most people, the easiest connection is one with people right outside their front doors."
Data collected in 2010 from 2,255 individuals by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project also suggest added neighborly ties. More than half -- 51% -- said they know all or most neighbors by name, up from 40% in 2008. In 2008, 31% said they didn't know any neighbors by name, compared to 18% in 2010.
The new survey, a supplemental questionnaire to the Census' Current Population Survey, provides data for the report to the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency, in partnership with the non-profit National Conference on Citizenship.
The new survey also offers some empirical data for the anecdotes most recently shared during Hurricane Sandy last month.
Consultant Tom Wolff, a psychologist in Amherst, Mass., says people seek out connection but often don't reach out until there's a disaster.
"The disaster allows us permission to address it -- to break down the barrier that says 'It would be awkward.' When they're in trouble, those barriers are down," he says.
Disaster recovery expert Daniel Aldrich of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "What saved our lives that night wasn't the radio or announcements from the mayor or FEMA, but a neighbor telling us to leave that early Sunday morning," he says. "Our neighbor told us to get out, so we did, and it saved our lives."
After that, Aldrich spent 18 months interviewing disaster survivors around the world and collecting data for a book out earlier this year, Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery, which studies evacuation, disaster recovery and community rebuilding following events, including hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes between 1923 and 2011.
His work shows that communities that pull together are more likely to recover and rebuild quickly. And he's found that certain programs can promote what he refers to as "informal insurance," which contrasts with the formal insurance people buy. Rather, Aldrich says, "informal insurance" is when neighbors provide resources when the normal resource provider shuts down.
"The only way to get it is by investing in your neighbors," he says.